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   bullet And... IT'S A WRAP!!!  

With the race over it was time to celebrate. Most of our crew headed to George Street to leave their mark on the bar scene of Newfoundland. Judging by the hangovers on Saturday morning, I would say that they did their best.

Saturday we joined a number of the Targa teams at a charity event that allowed people to purchase rides in the cars around a course set in a local parking lot. It was a chance for us to let the crew drive the car and to have a lot of fun. The day was perfect, sunny and 25 degrees. Rich and I sat back and watched the cars rip around the track, and were happy to be out of the car. The faces on the kids that got rides were priceless. I have never seen so many huge smiles. The highlight of the event occurred when Guilio decided to show the crowd what Lanceís 69 Camaro could do. Instead of running the course he did a series of burnouts and donuts in the parking lot, smoking the rear tires to huge cheers.

After the charity event we were off to the Targa Gala. Clad in our tuxedos we joined the entire team to celebrate our success. By the numbers: all 4 of our cars finished the race and received their Targa plate. In order to qualify for this honour, each team needed to complete all 37 stages in a certain time frame. It is enough of an accomplishment to finish the race, let alone to get a plate. To make it more significant, 3 of our 4 team mates were rookies! It has taken some teams 5 years to achieve the same result.

The highlight of the Gala, though, was a speech by Justin Mercer representing the Easter Seals kids of Newfoundland. Justin has Cerebral Palsy, but you would never know it. He is an amazing guy that has earned straight Aís at school, been accepted at University, and to top it all off, got to drive a stage in Targa this year! He was very inspirational and there were very few dry eyes in the audience after his speech. This helped motivate the crowd to raise over $50,000 for Easter Seals, which is almost 25% of their budget for the entire year. Our team donated $2,500, thanks to our generous sponsor Pure P.E.T.

After the Gala it was off to George Street to wrap up in style. Sunday morning came way too early, but we managed to get packed up and on the road for the long trip home. 48 hours later we limped in to Toronto tired and worn out from the drive, but filled with incredible memories from the event. The planning has already started for the road to Targa Newfoundland 2008.

Dean Hopkins

   bullet SEPTEMBER - 15th  

Our last day of racing and it couldnít be a better day. The day began with a 2 hour transit back over the surface of the moon towards St. Johnís. The first several stages were warm ups, fast and twisty but short. Over night our crew had tuned our car for driving at higher speeds on dry roads. Our suspension was much tighter and our tires were at higher pressure. At the first stage, Osprey Trail East the set up was so good that we were too fast. As we approached the finish our average speed was over 140 kph. Despite yelling at Rich to slow down the speed didnít come down. We actually needed to stop just before the finish and wait until it dropped below 130 kph which is the maximum allowed. That was a first for us!

The second stage at Spaniards Bay was also a short run along the shore and we were equally fast. The third stage at Upper Island Cove was one that we had heard from other teams was a challenging one as it had a number of difficult corners with gravel, exposed rock, fences, schools and lots of places to crash. To make matters worse the stage had been altered, with the start line moved forward. In the morning the organizers told us the start would be at 1.8km so I prepared my route books accordingly. When we got to the start, a girl was holding a white sign with different instructions. We almost blew past her, but luckily I got Richard to stop and back up to read the sign. The start was actually at 2.14 km, a big difference! Luckily we had time to adjust. Several other cars didnít. We ran the stage well and managed to miss all of the danger. Tony and Ryan werenít so lucky. They managed to fish tail into a rock and damage their rim and rear end. It didnít stop Tony from finishing the stage though!

We rolled up to lunch feeling good and with only 4 stages between us and the finish. My wife Cheryl had flown in for the final day and was there to meet us with a big smile as we pulled in to the lunch stop. After the long week we had it was fantastic to see her. We fueled up both the car and ourselves and headed into the afternoon stages. The first stage of Brigus was fast and short. Richard drove very well and we finished the stage cleanly. The next stage of Marysvale contained a triple caution that consisted of a jump followed directly by a depression that is known to eat cars. We were very cautious through it and finished the stage in great time.

The second last stage was a quick jaunt through a coastal town called Conception Bay and we nailed it. Going into the final stage we felt great and were confident that we were going to finish and get our Targa plate. We blasted off the line and made the first few turns perfectly, around the middle of the stage I managed to flip two pages and call that we were 600m from the finish so Richard needed to get going. The problem was that there were a couple of more turns! We came screaming over a crest before I realized my error and Richard saw a turn ahead and corrected to make it putting us in the gravel and scaring a marshall half to death. We were inches from crashing with only a few turns left. I immediately got back on the book and navigated us safely to the finish. Phew, we dodged the final bullet of Targa and finished the event with only bumps and bruises. Not bad for a pair of rookies!

From the final stage we made a quick transit to the overall finish line in downtown St. Johnís where we were greeted by a huge mob of fans. Each car that passed the finish line was cheered and the team given their coveted finishing medals. Our support crew sprayed us with the traditional champagne shower completing the experience. It was a very proud moment for both of us. Finally Richard and I could have a beer and relax. No beer has ever tasted so good br />

Dean Hopkins

   bullet SEPTEMBER - 14th  

In Newfoundland if you donít like the weather, wait ten minutes. After fighting high winds and rain on Wednesday we woke up to clear skies and sunshine on Thursday. We started the day with a marathon transit across the island from the lush coast to the eerie inland moonscape that makes up the middle of the island. The scenery was amazing with long vistas across a rocky terrain where the trees all slant one way away from the ever present howling winds.

Our first stage of the day was a long fast run up to Harbour Mille. This beautiful fishing village played host to us with a breakfast in the Fire Hall. We then ran the stage in reverse, and even faster, on the way back out. We are getting more comfortable with these long and fast stages now, but they are nail biters. Any small error can be very costly at these speeds on narrow windy coastal roads.

Just before lunch we ran one of our favourite stages in Marystown. Like Gander and Clarenville it was a fast stage through town with a few twists thrown in. The key feature of the stage involves a long dragstrip in the middle of town under a bridge that is lined with fans. All of the cars put on a good show for the fans by reaching top speed under the bridge before making a fast turn. We did our best not to disappoint. Coming in to the last turn of the race, however, we had our first incident. The turn was uphill right into the finish line. I called for Richard not to cut the corner, but he did anyway and we hit a major pothole with the side of our rim at speed.

We crossed the finish and then noticed a major problem with our front right side. I got out to find that we had blown a tire. Not a problem, we got out, borrowed a jack and replaced the tire with our spare. Seems simple enough. We started up again to get to the next stage and found that car ran no better, it still was limping along and making a terrible thumping noise from the front right. Armed with instructions from our crew to keep moving if something goes wrong we crawled up to the service area about 1 km up the road. At this point we both thought that we had broken the car and were out of the event for at least a stage. There went our plate. The crew took one look at the front and started laughing. We had put the tire on wrong! They put it right and sent us on our way. We arrived at the next stage with lots of time to spare, but a little humbler and very thankful for the great service crew that we have. We dodged a bullet there.

The last stage leading in to lunch turned out to be a really fun one. Garnish is a mixed stage with a super high speed section followed by a technical in town section, finishing up with more high speed. We had an amazing run reaching 200 kph (the maximum speed in the event) as we crossed a 3 km long causeway with water on both sides. What a blast. Lunch in the fishing village of Fortune was fish chowder and sandwiches on the second floor of the town hall before running a quick in town stage. I managed to make my first major navigational error on this stage and couldnít get back on the route book. We drove the arrows and survived the stage. We then ran Frenchmanís Cove (Garnish backwards) and had everything you can imagine go wrong.

It all started out well with a fantastic high speed run into the town where we managed to get it into cruise control at 200 kph so that we wouldnít exceed the maximum speed. There is nothing like humming along on cruise control at those speeds! We executed the next two very difficult corners with perfection only to find that our windshield had fogged up and turns into the sun were blind. On executing the third turn with very little visibility we came within 1 foot of hitting a house that is a common target during the event. Richard backed up and stalled the car twice before getting us underway again. We found out later that a BMW managed to hit the house after us and put themselves out of the race. The Lexus came quite close to catching us, but we managed to get back on our game and make a fast run to the finish. We were glad to get out of that stage alive. We finished up the day with a second run through Marystown and managed to avoid ruining a second rim before retiring for the night exhausted from a long day in the car.

Dean Hopkins

   bullet SEPTEMBER - 13th  

Phew, another amazing day at Targa is behind us. Day 3 takes us from Gander along the coast down to Clarenville. Today we experienced howling winds, driving rain and cold in the morning, followed by a 15 degree warming with fog in the afternoon. The racing conditions went from slow and wet to fast and dry accordingly.

The first two stages were fast and short warm up stages winding along the coastal villages. In the rain the rolling and winding hills made for interesting driving, but we managed to clear both stages with no penalties. Stage 3 in Musgrave Harbour was another short fast stage along the water, but with a few added twists that caught us by 25 seconds. The final stage of the morning at New Wes Valley was the fastest of the day and taxed Richardís driving to the hilt in the wet. We left 40 seconds on the course, but so did a lot of teams.

Lunch was at the beautiful historic village of Barbour that is on the water and could have filled an album of post cards. All of the teams warmed up from the cold and wet morning with fish chowder and sandwiches before making a long transit (125km) down to Greenspond for one of the most exciting stages of the race. This is a 2.29 km stage through a small fishing village on a steep hill at the coast. The roads are narrow down back alleys, up and down the steep hillside. There is gravel everywhere and it is a blast! Richard and I had some video of the stage from a previous year that we watched while waiting in the car, so we were ready. We nailed the stage, but still took a few seconds penalty. It turns out that the organizers have ratcheted down the times so that they are very tough to make!

The next few stages in the afternoon were also fast and technical, leading up to the final stage in Clarenville. This is a favourite stage of all the racers since it is like Day 2ís Gander stage. It involves screaming through the town of Clarenville with a number of super tight corners, up and down hills and over a jump or two. At one point Richard had to hammer the parking brake to get us around a corner right where the TV film crew were set up, only he forgot to shift down into first so the car popped up, swung around facing the right direction but almost came to a stop before he was able to get on the power and accelerate to the next corner. Fun, fun, fun!

All in all Day 3 continued to challenge our rookie abilities and the car continues to be amazing. The kids at the car shows all love it and we get mobbed on the transits by fans all lining the route. We are bushed from 12 hours in the car, so it is time to turn out the light and pass out before getting up tomorrow at 5:30 to do it all again! Thanks to our amazing crew for keeping us on the road and allowing us to focus on the race.

Dean Hopkins

   bullet SEPTEMBER - 10th to the 11th  

Well race fans, sorry for the gap in coverage, but internet coverage is sparse where we have been. The good news is that we are alive, rubber side down and still in the race after 3 full days!

Day 2 was fast, fast, fast.  2 of the stages were over 30km long and required average speeds of 130km per hour despite rolling twisty terrain. To meet the time we needed to reach speeds approaching 200 kph.  It tested us and the car. Lunch was at an amazing town called Leading Tickles! Imagine a postcard set in the rugged seaside and then add 80 high performance cars, moose stew, Celtic music blaring, and bakeapple pie for desert.

Unfortunately we weren't at our best and clocked some serious penalties on the way out and back so we humbled and moved back to the rear of the Open Class.  Our team mates Tony and Ryan continue to dominate the Open class with an insane performance on the high speed stages.  Lance and his Dad are kicking tail and are in the running for best rookie. Lance had a crazy ride out to Leading Tickles with no brakes!

The highlight of day 2 had to be the final stage of the day through the town of Gander.  Imagine being allowed to drive as fast as you can through your subdivision and then multiply it by two.  Rich and I drove it like a bat out of hell and were sideways for a lot of the stage.  Despite taking a few penalty seconds we were really happy with the stage.

We were so exhausted after the day that I grabbed Richard and tucked him into bed at 9 pm. He was out in seconds.  I prepared the next day's books and was down for the count by 10.

Blog #4 is next for Day 3....
Dean Hopkins

   bullet SEPTEMBER - 8th to the 9th  

After a beautiful 2 hour drive from the ferry to St. John's we settled into the Targa routine. Saturday was spent registering the team, ensuring the car passed the technical inspection (we passed!), and preparing our route books for the first few stages. More on route books later in the blog. We took the car out for a few practice runs to ensure everything was running well. 

During the day our team caught the eye of the TV crew covering the event. As a result we were fortunate enough to be interviewed and are hoping that they will follow us during the event.

Saturday night we crashed early so that we could be ready for our first day of racing. While we were safely in bed, our support crew were spreading goodwill amongst the natives. Most notably our team went to great lengths to explore George St. and befriend the Steelback Girls (the main sponsor of the event). They were excellent ambassadors of the GumballSTi Team. Although it might not have been wise to get back to the trailer at 4:30 AM.

Sunday we woke up to a beautiful day. Sunshine and about 25 degrees. Perfect weather for our first two stages of racing at Targa. Even though these 2 stages were only for Practice, we were excited and nervous all day. At noon we proceeded to the start line and were cheered on like rockstars at the start line. What an amazing rush!

Right after that we proceded to miss the very first turn of the transit to the race stage. This was one of a few mistakes we made during the day. After recovering, we found our way to the start line of our very first stage. The clock counted down, we hit the gas and were off. It would have been amazing, except I forgot to zero the race computer!  I quickly recovered and got back on track. We executed the stage perfectly averaging about 110 kph. We even passed a team!

Armed with a great first stage we were pumped for the second stage, which we had never seen before.  On the way to the stage we stopped in to pay a visit at a Retirement home for Veterans where we entertained the residents for a few minutes before moving on. We also stopped at a community center and were mobbed by kids. Finally we stopped for lunch at a school and signed lots of autographs. The car is very popular with the kids. They all know DC Shoes and many know the car itself.

At the start line to the next stage we corrected our mistakes from the first stage and were solid through the whole stage averaging 80 kph through lots of twists and turns in town. We were very happy with our teamwork and driving. There are lots of things to improve on, luckily we will have 5 days to get better.

Tomorrow we have a 2 hour transit to our first of 6 stages. It will be an early morning.

Dean Hopkins.

   bullet SEPTEMBER - 4th to the 7th  

After 6 long months of preparation we are finally off to Targa.

The first leg of our journey took us from Toronto to Sydney, Nova Scotia.  Most mortals split the driving across 2 days, but that is not the Gumball spirit!   We managed to complete the 2,100 km drive in 21.5 hours averaging 90 km/hr including stops.  Other than the Vanguard of fog, moose and 2 lane roads under construction at 3 in the morning between Edmunston and Fredericton, the drive was smooth.   As a result we arrived before most teams and had time for a nap before meeting up for beers and dinner with a few of the other Targa teams.

After a much needed night of sleep, we made our way to the ferry dock for the long wait to board our ship.  Fortunately, at least 15 other Targa teams were following the same route.  Once we were settled, out came the beer and champagne. The sun was shining and the sea was flat.  Somewhere the gods were smiling on us.

On board the ferry we settled in to our cabin.  After a few rounds of beer, more Targa talk, a brief orientation, and a quick movie (watched on my computer in our bunks), we all crashed for the night.

It is now 5:30 am and we are just pulling into the dock at Argentia.  Stay tuned for the next installment. .

Dean Hopkins.

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