Targa Newfoundland 2012 is off in a cloud of exhaust fumes and burned rubber.
The man holding the flag that sent them out onto the streets of Newfoundland could not be more excited.
Robert Giannou, president of Targa Newfoundland, was the guy waving the Canadian flag over the hood of each car as it took its turn going through an archway on the St. John’s waterfront on Sunday.
The tradition was pretty much the extent of the event’s opening ceremony. Everyone was eager to get down to the business of racing.
It’s a great thing for the whole province, said Giannou.
“I’m so proud to be a Newfoundlander doing this. I just love getting this message out. It’s a can-do thing for Newfoundland,” he said.
Targa Newfoundland is the only event of its kind in North America.
It’s a weeklong course through dozens of communities that covers more than 2,200 kilometres.
The event is in its 10th year and regularly attracts vehicles and drivers from all over the world.
Brothers Peter Welter and Richard Aten travelled from Florida to participate.
This is their second year driving their 1974 Carrera RSR Clone with a Porsche engine.
“It’s a really good event. It’s a lot of fun,” said Aten.
The brothers used to race heavily in the 1970s but stopped years ago.
Aten talked his brother into trying Targa Newfoundland last year, and now they look forward to it all year.
“For me, it’s a gift to have my time occupied with something that I love. It’s a passion. And to come back up here is nice,” said Aten.
Fellow rider Bill Shanahan travelled from Connecticut to participate. He and Welter joked that they’re here out of boredom from their retirement.
“It’s a good rally, well run. We’re retired, so you know,” he said.
“I just like driving here. I think it’s wonderful. The people are terrific. The countryside is spectacular.”
That’s what Giannou likes to hear — people are enjoying themselves. Because its been a heck of a ride getting to this point in the event’s history, he said.
Some days are more stressful than others.
“I’m actually only 23 years old — I just look this old,” he laughed.
The event was recently hit with a bit of unexpected news — it is facing a possible federal investigation into alleged tobacco advertising. That incident involves a sentimental racing suit, with a tobacco logo on it, worn by a racer from last year.
But that bit of controversy was pretty far from Giannou’s mind on Sunday as he laughed with racing fans and shook hands with drivers.
“No, I love it. It’s our blood; it’s in our family blood. For year’s we’ve done it and we do it as a family,” he said about the race, adding a list of various family members who were working on Sunday’s event. There are also more than 1,000 volunteers all over the province.
All of those people work hard to make the race as great as it can get, he said.
It’s certainly been a decade of learning new things — everything from safety to advertising and more, he added.
You never know what is going to come up in this business, he said.
“The challenges change,” he said. “The spectators get more sophisticated. Sometimes they get a little more difficult to control. Last year we had an issue and we’ve spent the whole winter, focusing all our efforts, into, not only training our marshals to help spectators enjoy it, but training spectators themselves,” he said.
The event put an extra emphasis on safety this year after a spectator was seriously injured last year, the first such injury in the event’s 10-year history.
Organizers have advised anyone watching the races to stand back 10 metres from the road, always watch from high ground, never turn their backs from the road and don’t watch the race sitting down.
“Just common sense. Keep something between you and the oncoming car,” said Giannou.
“Because this can be the most enjoyable, spectacular sport you’ve ever seen, so there is no need to go up and put your toes on the road. That just doesn’t work,” he said.
Targa Newfoundland is heading out of St. John’s this morning and starting the first leg of the John Curran Memorial Stage in Conception Harbour/Colliers.
The event will end with a ceremony, back at the St. John’s waterfront, on Friday.
For a full list of events and start times visit the website: http://www.targanewfoundland.com.