I’m happy to report that a factory backed (MINICA & MINIUSA) JCW Cooper S is currently leading the “Unlimited Class” at the famed Targa Newfoundland. Here’s the latest as of Friday the 16th:

In the Unlimited division, the 2004 MINI Cooper JCW of Jim Kenzie and Brian Bourbonniere still leads, with Rob Pacione and Brian Maxwell trying to catch the leaders in their 1999 Ford Mustang GT. With only one day of competition remaining and a two-minute gap between first and second, it will be interesting to see if the positions shift.

This would be a fantastic win for MINI if they can hold off the competition. MINI.ca has all the required reading including features on the car and on the circuit. They even have a driver journal that is being updated as the race progresses. Here’s an excerpt:

“We have bouys out in the harbour that are bigger than your car!” The safety marshal at the start of the first speed stage of the Targa Newfoundland in Holyrood wasn’t the only person to be surprised at the appearance of our car.

Especially since we were running right at the back – i.e. the fast end – of the pack, mixing it up with the huge, Hemi-powered Chryslers, the monster supercharged Mustangs, and a fully race-prepped turbocharged Datsun 510 in the Unlimited class. Unlimited? Yep. We figured that at least one third of the cars running in the production-based stock and modified classes should have been in Unlimited. I mean, if a Subaru Impreza, purpose-built to be a rally car from a bare body shell with a 500 horsepower turbo engine (in fact, last year’s Canadian rally championship-winning car), or a 1972 BMW Bavaria body shell fitted with a race-tuned M3 power train and custom-built suspension are not “unlimited”, then what is?

So we figured – if they want to run in our class, we’ll run in theirs. In truth, our MINI is just about as “stock” as any in the entire field. Go into any MINI dealership, order a Cooper S, check one box on the form – John Cooper Works tuning kit – and you pretty much have our rally car.

The highlight of our day came on the very last stage, a tight, right-left-right charge through a suburb of Gander. We started 30 seconds behind the other Hemi-powered Chrysler factory entry, a Chrysler 300C SRT8. About half-way into the 6 km stage we caught him, and just blew by him on a 200 metre long straight. True, he had missed a turn at one point and had to reverse to get back on course. But three corners after we passed him, he had disappeared out of our rear view mirror…

Goliath, meet David.

Very cool stuff. Kudos to MINI Canada and MINIUSA for stepping up to the plate with a factory backed entry and conjuring up memories of Paddy Hopkirk and Monte Carlo from 40 years back (even for those of us that weren’t born yet!).

Now for all those of you that aren’t familiar with the Targa Newfoundland, here’s a quick description:

Targa Newfoundland is the first and only event of its kind to be held in North America. It is an annual event and forms a 2200 km long, high quality automotive adventure. It is held over a seven-day period in September of each year on the paved roads of the eastern and central parts of the island of Newfoundland.

The event allows the owners of historic, classic and modern sporting motor vehicles to drive them the way they were designed to be driven. In the event each vehicle competes against itself on a handicap basis as well as against other vehicles. The competition is for Targa plates which every competitor can win. There is no prize money.

The vehicles and crews compete on public roads in transit sections which follow all of the rules of the road and “Targa” or speed sections which are held on roads closed to the general public. The Targa sections represent about 25% or the total course.

You can read more on the event here.

And check out MINI.ca for all of the MINI related details (including a close look at the JCW MCS used for the Targa):

[ MINI Targa Newfoundland ] MINI.ca

Hopefully we’ll have more good news on the event later this weekend.