Zach Bowman and Brandond Fitch with Flyin Miata at the Targa Newfoundland

The 2011 Targa Newfoundland is officially underway after three prologue stages on Sunday. As our first real taste of targa competition, the day was instrumental in alerting Brandon Fitch, driver of the number 1680 Flyin' Miata Supercharged Mazda Miata, and myself to the fact that we had no holy clue as to what we were doing.

As a co-driver in the Grand Touring class, it's my job to make sure that we arrive at the flying finish line as close to our target time as humanly possible. Early in the event, we get to enjoy nice, wide 30-second time windows. Later in the week, that gap will narrow to a slender six seconds. During the prologue, we either under- or over-shot our times by as much as 30 additional seconds outside of our window.


What was the problem, you ask? Our rally computer, the infamous Terratrip, seems to have been designed specifically to confound and infuriate. With Brandon doing his best to keep us shiny side up during a stage, I'm trying to call out the distances to the next instruction in descending intervals of 100 meters, the instructions themselves, monitor our time as we arrive at the instruction and hopefully keep an eye on our average speed to tell us whether or not we were close to hitting our time. It didn't work that way.

For starters, the Terratrip seems to have a preference for calculating average speed not from the time that the vehicle begins moving, but from the instant that you turn the machine on. Not helpful. If I cleared the screens in preparation for our start time, the computer began factoring two minutes of zeros into our average speed, rendering a completely useless number.

Keep reading to see how it turned out...

To make matters worse, I was having a hell of a problem keeping the time and distance figures separate in my tiny writer brain. I would look up, see 1:20 and read 1.2 kilometers, subsequently lose my place in the route book and call a turn that we had passed 800 meters ago. It sounds impossible, but at speed, in a rush and stressed out of your gourd, your brain does funny things... or at least mine does. Needless to say, neither Brandon nor myself had so much as a clue as to what I was saying.

After chatting it up with the ever-wise and experienced Team Hammerhead, we realized that two $1.00 egg timers would help immensely. With one counting down to our arrival time and one counting up, we had a perfect picture of how much time we had left on the stage and how much distance we had covered up until that point.

2011 Targa Newfoundland routebook calculations

In addition, we learned that by executing a lengthy mathematical formula, I could calculate additional interval times to use as markers to tell if we were up or down on time. Armed with our new knowledge and low-tech timers, we were optimistic about our prospects on Monday.

Then we arrived at Stage One. With two minutes to go, we hopped in, strapped on our helmets and plugged in our headsets only to discover that the battery for the intercom system had been installed backwards the night before. We had no communications. Brandon immediately began tearing into the com system to diagnose the problem when a fellow competitor casually said, "Its stage condition two," as he leisurely strolled past our window.

That small string of six syllables effectively yanked the rug out from under any and all confidence I had about the day going well. In my haste the night before, I had only calculated out Stage Condition One, which defines the target time and average speed for the stage in addition to all of the interval time-to-distance calculations. Stage Condition Two, meanwhile, serves to slow the competitors down in the event of rain, fog, moose or gravel. Times are typically six percent slower, as is the average speed. Without those calculations, we were effectively flying just as blind as the day prior.

With Brandon still fighting the com system, I dropped the glove box open, grabbed the calculator and began the hardest series of simple math equations I've attempted in my short years on this rock. With less than a minute to go, my brain refused to cooperate as I jammed at the calculator. With Brandon's help, I eventually wrangled up a correct target time and what we thought was a correct average speed.

It wasn't.

Instead of working out a speed that was six percent slower, we cranked out a speed that was six percent faster. I could hear my middle-school algebra teacher cackling from her grave. Fortunately, with our correct target time in place, we managed to cross the line right on time. We zeroed the stage, incurred no penalties and came out with massive grins on our faces. After frantically calling out approximate distances, telling Brandon to pick up the pace or slow the hell down and generally over-clocking my pea brain, my hands were shaking like I had just wrung the motorcycle out at 11 tenths. And I was in the passenger seat.

Over the course of the rest of the day, we managed to iron out further bugs and improve ourselves, our communication and our pace. As of the end of Monday and as of the time of writing, we're currently tied for first place. We don't expect to hold onto that title for long, but we're enjoying it while it lasts. The rest of the week will undoubtedly be filled with challenges. You can check our progress by keeping an eye on the Targa Newfoundland results page.

Stay tuned.