Well, the rally has been over for about a week and a half now. I have returned home from the 2008 SEMA show and I have finally been able to sit down and breathe a little bit. I’ve watched the videos that you will soon be seeing. I have sorted through all of the pictures which will be making their way on to the blogs soon. And, most importantly, I have thought about the week’s event.
As I reminisce about my time on the rally a few thoughts cross my mind. First, New Zealand is the most beautiful country in the world. With everything from crystal clear ocean waters, to clouds lazily floating through the sky above lush green hill sides and farmlands. There is no place in the world like it. You could fill thousands of rolls of film, hundreds of memory cards, and dozens of photo albums and you will never be able to capture the true beauty of the country.
Another fond memory that comes to mind is the people. During the rally we meet a lot of people. From young kids who can’t stop smiling when they see the GT to the good ole boys sitting on their porches as they smile and wave like school children when we rumble by, and especially the competitors. I have been to many different forms of motor racing in my life and I have never seen such a friendly environment. One of my favorite aspects of the rally has to be talking with other drivers. Many times we found that the stages were a little delayed and the teams of volunteers (great groups of people in their own right) haven’t been able to funnel all of the cars through yet. So, we jump out of the car, have a little chat, talk a little B.S. and meet new people. Prior to one stage the owner of a 3 rotor RX7 actually took the time to open the hood on his car and tell me all about his race car. New Zealand is home to the most car crazy people in the world, and some of the most friendly and hospitable people I have ever met.
As much as I love the country, the people, and the overall atmosphere, at the end of the day/week we were in a rally and nothing can beat that. No experience in life can compare to flying through closed roads with a fire breathing 700 horsepower engine screaming right behind you, propelling you into the unknown. One thing to keep in mind is that we don’t know these roads that we race on. Sure, some of the roads are repeats from previous years but good luck trying to remember every part of it. All you can do is put your faith in your driver and do your best to provide him or her with the information they need to get you both home safely, while still pushing hard for the win. Then of course there is always the unknown. What lies behind this left hand turn? A cliff? A car? Maybe the roads have washed out? Or worse yet, maybe there’s gravel strewn across the road? The unknown is one of the most exhilarating aspects of the rally.
I am extremely fortunate. This year, I was able to do the rally with a man that is not only one of the greatest race car drivers… A man that has won numerous championships all around the world in many different forms of motorsport. I was able to do the rally with my Dad. Every son looks at their Dad as the “benchmark.” How can you be better, faster, stronger, bigger… Whether it be a game of basketball, golf, hockey, or racing, every son thinks “I can’t wait til I can beat the old man!” Well, after spending some time with my Dad in his element, I am pretty comfortable just learning, and seeing what I can pick up from him. The videos you will soon see are very exciting, but they don’t show the whole story. When we prepared the GT for the 2008 Targa we added an AP Racing rear big brake kit that moved the braking bias 2% to the rear of the car from the factory settings. 2% is pretty small and easily controllable and under normal even extreme conditions would not cause the car to spin or lose control. Well, Steve Millen is a little different than most people.
About half way through the second day I started noticing that we were pushing harder, we were coming into corners a lot harder and faster and if the corner tightened up, the back end of the car seemed to quickly and abruptly turn in. I started thinking about how or why that would happen. Then I remembered the rear brakes were so much bigger. In the middle of the stage I asked “Are you using the brakes to turn the back of the car? Are you coming into these corners so hot that we’re just pushing through, then you brake a little harder to use the back brakes to turn the back of the car?” In the most matter of fact way you could imagine I heard “Yep, these rear brakes and tires are really helping the back end.” I was blown away. In the few split seconds that we have in these corners he was actually able to figure out how to use the rear brakes to turn the back of the car without using too much pressure and spinning the car. Rear braking is pretty common in forms of motorsport like rally racing or drifting but the main difference is that most of those cars are equipped to use the handbrake for the rear brakes… He never touched the handbrake! All of his pressure application was done through the factory pedals that come in the car.
I know this blog post was extremely long and wordy but I can never fully explain the week I had in New Zealand. The only way I can think to share my experience is to invite you down and live it for yourself. The New Zealand Targa Rally is an unbelievable, unforgettable experience that every car guy should experience. I can’t wait to see what Targa Newfoundland has in store for us.
The original posts from New Zealand as the event was taking place can be found here: