Girl Power & Mazda Rule The Rock At The 2007 Targa Newfoundland Rally

Only all-female team wins hearts and minds during week of intense Newfoundland racing

Nika Rolczewski
Special to the Star

Far from romantic sandy beaches or the pampering of five-star hotels, I spent my honeymoon behind the wheel of a Mazdaspeed3 next to a navigator I barely knew.

The morning after my wedding, I arrived with just minutes to spare for the start of the Targa Newfoundland, a rally that extends some 2,200 kilometres around the southeastern part of the island.

It’s familiar territory: My first Targa experience in 2004 started an addiction to rallies. So when the chance came up this year to pilot a Mazdaspeed3, it wasn’t hard to make a decision – even if it meant leaving my new husband for more than a week.

Co-pilot Sandra Lemaitre, Mazda’s corporate communications manager, took to the navigator’s chair, while I had the easy part: driving.

Two competitions run during the event: Targa and Grand Touring. Unlike the Targa class, where speed is of the essence, precision is the key to winning the Grand Touring contest. Teams can enter in either an equipped or unequipped category. We entered the former and relied on the help of a computer to calculate our average speed and distance.

But our “Terra Trip” rally computer turned out to be a “Terror Trip” since it didn’t work properly. This left Lemaitre working as a human calculator – but boy, did I depend on her instructions. We’d crest a hill at high speed not knowing which way the road would turn and, thankfully, her commands and calculations would turn out to be perfect.

There are a few things, however, that a driver doesn’t look forward to hearing from her navigator. Here are three: “I think it’s a left,” “Oops, sorry, wrong route book,” and “I should not have had the moose chili.”

Equally as alarming, a navigator doesn’t want to hear her driver say, “Oh crap,” “Hang on!” and “This is gonna hurt…”

Our 2007 Mazdaspeed3 ran the tough rally flawlessly. Its 263 horsepower, turbo-charged 4-cylinder engine offered peppy throttle when careening through a small town’s narrow streets.

Brightly decked out in badges and decals, our car stood out. The locals recognized us as rally participants – unfortunately, so did the police. The cruisers would tail our well-behaving ride for kilometres on end just waiting for an impatient foot to weigh down a little heavier on the gas pedal.

Each evening, in a different small town, local children would mob our car at the nightly car show. We were pretty popular, too.

Lemaitre seemed to sign more autographs than Hilary Duff, and a passerby would have thought a celebrity was in town based on the amount of cameras flashing. It helped that we were the only all-female team in this year’s rally.

“Girl power!” shouted the fans.

Without a working rally computer, a podium finish was unlikely, but that didn’t mean we couldn’t have fun. Between stages we toured the beautiful province.

We saw moose, which we dubbed “moving chicanes.” Luckily we spotted the beasts from a distance and not close-up through our windshield.

We knew the pressure would be on to perform, and we ran a good rally. On the last day of the event, we started in third place. Unfortunately, two other cars moved into our class as “equipped” and we dropped position, finishing fifth in class and eighth overall.

At the awards gala we were presented with plaques that had great meaning. Easter Seals is the official Targa charity, and the children of that charity voted our Sirius Satellite as their favourite entry.

Back home and back to reality, it’s hard to adjust. Driving solo – and without conversation or the commands of a navigator – is too quiet for my liking.

Lemaitre, however, finds herself heading to the passenger seat.

And it’s hard to not add an extra 100 km/h to the posted speed limit.

My honeymoon in Newfoundland was only missing one thing: my husband. But competing in the Targa was the most fun this racer could have … without him, of course.

Special thanks:

Sandra LeMaitre – the great navigator and better yet – a super friend

Targa organizers, representative, workers and volunteers: Thank you Frank for nagging me to come out, and then to all of you for putting up with me while there.

Newfoundland residents: Thank you for the hospitality.  The beauty of the province is only surpassed by the big hearts of the people.



Nika has had a love for cars and racing since childhood. A regional racing license holder she has been involved with the industry, working with racers, teams, journalists and automobile manufacturers in sponsorship solicitation, logistics, hospitality, road show and communication program implementation.