Newfoundland has staged Canada’s longest and toughest rally for the last eleven years. Every year about 25,000 rally fans converge on the island in the Atlantic off the north-east coast of North America to witness the endurance spectacular live. Over the years, the participants, organisers and fans have experienced some spectacular action along the 2000 kilometres plus en route to the finish. Despite this, the Targa Newfoundland is still always good for a few surprises. This year, for example, Hurricane Leslie swept over the island and really shook up the field. All this was witnessed at first hand by Jon Riddell, who was lining up at his second Targa Newfoundland this year and guided his MINI Countryman to second place in the Grand Touring class.
Riddell was also the best-placed MINI in the field of 60 cars. A huge success, and one that has earned him the accolade of MINI Star of the Month for September – although the titles and awards are an added bonus for the majority of participants at the Targa Newfoundland. It is now coincidence that the name of the rally is followed by the slogan "It’s all about the drive" on the official website. It is all about the Targa Newfoundland experience – something the entire island buys into when the rally gets underway in the city of St. John's before snaking through the various regions of Newfoundland for five days. Riddell was also struck by the warmth of the Newfoundland people. "The spectators and towns people are very kind, gracious and welcoming," said Riddell. "Where else can a first-time rally participant be pursued by kids for their autograph every day? We can’t say enough good things or thank you often enough to the good people of Newfoundland."
Riddell made his debut last year, finishing sixth at the first attempt. A good friend had asked him whether he would like to take part in the Targa Newfoundland in his car, and Riddell could not say no. "Cars and racing have always been an interest of mine, but my racing interest has always been limited to that of a fan," says Riddell. After the start in 2011, Riddell’s friend offered him another outing – in a MINI Countryman, and for a good cause: people suffering from multiple sclerosis. Riddell accepted immediately and signed up his wife Briar de Lange as co-driver. "Briar has always been a car enthusiast and not one to turn down an adventure such as Targa," said Riddell. The teamwork was a huge success, even without any prior experience as a co-driver at an official rally. Riddell attributes much of that to the 23 years of marriage: "I believe that a husband-and-wife team has a great advantage when it starts rallying."
At the end of day one, they were leading the field in the Grand Touring class. However, then came the hurricane. The Trans-Canada Highway was flooded and the co-driver’s milometer in the MINI failed. "This was difficult to overcome," said Riddell. "We devised a process whereby I would monitor the car’s odometer and verbally mark the distances needed by Briar for navigation and timing." The pair were both relaxed about having to settle for second place in their class. For the Jon and Briar too, it was all about the Targa Newfoundland experience. "There is a great deal of camaraderie amongst the drivers," said Riddell. The fans always get their money’s worth at the Targa Newfoundland, as the paddocks are open to the spectators in the evenings. All these factors make the Targa Newfoundland a very special rally. No wonder then that Jon and Briar have their sights set on a return to Newfoundland: "We would certainly love to do the Targa again." The next opportunity comes in September 2013.
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