Congratulations to Keith Tanner on the selection of the Targa Miata as the September Miata of the Month!
The Targa Newfoundland is a week-long road rally in remote Newfoundland, Canada. Competitors spend a week winding back and forth across the island, racing through small towns, forests and along the Atlantic coast. The event is known for its friendly locals as well as the great roads. There aren't a lot of international motorsport events that are open to just anyone without a huge pocketbook, but the Targa is one of them. So when a friend suggested it would be a great experience, the idea kinda stuck. It wouldn't be easy, but it would be something we'd remember forever.
Once we decided to enter the Targa, I spent a lot of time looking at the rulebook and deciding what the perfect car would be. Modifying my classic Mini looked pretty good. A Miata looked better, though. It had the potential to be the perfect car for the event, and oddly enough only one has ever taken part before. So I decided to build one. Armed with the rulebook, it looked like Modified would be the best class. I wasn't to restricted by the rules, but I woudn't have to be quite as fast as the Unlimited class in order to be competitive. One of the rules was that I had to keep the car naturally aspirated.
The whole car was built in my garage, starting with a bare shell that was someone else's stalled rotary project and rescued from the junkyard. That set a bit of a theme for the whole project, as the car was assembled out of leftover and salvage parts from just about every year of production. The best of every Miata part was chosen - a 1990 dash for light weight, a 2005 front subframe and steering uprights for better geometry and so on. Every body panel came off a different car. I also built a fairly complex header to get the most out of the engine, mostly so I could learn how to do it. Flyin' Miata helped out with a great engine, lots of support and access to their salvage area, while Hard Dog provided the roll cage. The whole build is documented at targamiata.com.
I've always been a fan of the Martini Racing cars, particularly the Lancia rally cars. So when it came time to pick a distinctive color scheme that would look good amongst the historic race cars, that's what it had to be. I spent hours and hours mocking up the stripes with tape, trying to match the curves to the shape of the car. More hours and hours of careful masking followed before the first color was laid down. The colors themselves are the legitimate Martini Racing color codes, provided by the original paint shop in Italy. While it was a fairly ambitious project for learning how to paint cars, it paid off pretty well.
Of course, there's a lot more to running a race like the Targa than simply building a car. The Miata is only part of a team. I didn't have any rally experience, and when my new wife Janel agreed to be my navigator she didn't have any either. So we attended rally school and took part in a Time-Speed-Distance rally put on by the local MG club. Let me tell you, nobody believes you're novices when you show up in a fully prepped, stickered up race Miata running on well-scrubbedRA1s. We proved that we really were new at the game by getting ourselves just a little bit lost a few times, but it was fun practice regardless. Despite the predictions of others, we didn't end up killing each other! We also learned that we needed better padding in the seats.
At the race, we'll have my parents as support crew, and my aunt and uncle have also volunteered to work for the Targa running various stages. It's turned into a real family affair. We're realistic about our chances - while the car probably has the capability to win overall, our inexperience will keep us off the podium. But that's not the point. The important thing is that we're taking part - as a family - in a unique motorsports event.
The 2008 Targa Newfoundland takes place from September 13-20. You can follow along with Keith and Janel's race at targamiata.com. We wish them luck!
Will you be next?