Targa Newfoundland Motorsports Club Inc. and Newfoundland International Motorsports Limited, the organizer and owner respectively of the annual Targa Newfoundland rally, will be sold to a company headed by Canadian Wes Thompson, Targa founder Robert Giannou announced.
Two events run under the Targa umbrella will continue to be organized and managed from St. John’s and will rely on the proven management team and talented volunteer base. Preparations for the July Targa Bambina event and September 2020 Targa Newfoundland are currently underway. Final details of the sale are being completed and the transaction is expected to close in November. .
The 2019 Targa Newfoundland event was postponed to 2020 due to a late drop in entries. The annual event had run continuously under Giannou’s stewardship from the first Targa in September of 2002.
“Targa Newfoundland is well known as a first-class product with a first-class management group,” Thompson says. “I’ve come to realize that Robert and his team know what they’re doing. They already know what works, and what might be improved. Their enthusiasm is infectious.”
Organizer and founder Giannou will be contracted to the event to ensure continuity, Thompson says.
Since 2002, Targa Newfoundland has earned a reputation as a challenging six-day motoring adventure over the paved roads of eastern and central Newfoundland, hosted by welcoming communities and set against the dramatic backdrop of Newfoundland’s rugged landscape. The event offers three distinct driving challenges: a traditional distance-speed-time rally that emphasizes precision, a full-throttle, closed-road competition for race-prepared cars and a non-competitive drive for sporting cars and their owners.
Modelled on the very successful Targa Tasmania rally in Australia, it has drawn eager competitors from as far away as Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Belgium, the Bahamas and the Turks & Caicos islands, the U.K. and the U.S. as well as from across Canada. The week-long event has attracted thousands of visitors to Newfoundland over the years in the form of competitors, crews, volunteers and fans who come to see a competition unlike any in North America. The event runs with the sanction of the Province of Newfoundland & Labrador.
Wes Thompson: “Targa is too important to let slip away.”
He’s steered a vast family business for more than three decades. He has an enduring interest in classic cars and has a fleet of vintage fire trucks. He’s dipped a toe into rally competition and liked it. Now, Wes Thompson gets to bring his business experience and passion for cars to a new challenge as owner of the storied Targa Newfoundland rally.
Thompson, 60, of Blenheim, Ontario, heads the company that purchased Targa Newfoundland Motorsports Club Inc., owner of the event, and Newfoundland International Motorsports Limited, the rally’s organizer. And while reviving an iconic Canadian motorsport event seems a departure from running a powerhouse in the agriculture business, Thompson is comfortable with the decision.
“This (transaction) was driven by a lot of things,” he explains. “It fit the profile for a new enterprise for me, something to sink my teeth into. It’s certainly a unique event in North America. But most of all, it was a desire to keep this remarkable, one-of-a-kind Canadian motorsport alive in its birthplace. Targa is too important to let slip away.”
Indeed, Wes Thompson knows a thing or two about heritage and legacy. For 34 years he steered Thompsons Limited, the third-generation family-owned company that bears his name. Started in 1924 by his grandfather as W.G. Thompson and Sons, Thompsons handles and distributes grain crops and supplies farm products and services to growers in Ontario, Minnesota and North Dakota and to food processing customers around the world. It owns and operates 12 elevators and 11 retail farm centres. The business also includes two seed processing plants and five food processing plants.
Thompsons Limited was sold in 2013.
Targa Newfoundland came to his attention earlier this year when his daughter took part in the annual Targa Bambina rally event, a small-scale version of the six-day marathon motoring adventure that has been a fixture on Canada’s sporting calendar since its inception in 2002. The senior Thompson had already experienced classic rally competition, most recently completing the Great Race event in a 1939 Ford coupe.
Thompson has already given his role in Targa a new title: Head Cheerleader.
“The character of Targa reflects the character of its island home,” he says, “with its resilience, its adaptability, its history and its legendary hospitality. Those are vital assets that it’s important to preserve.”
His roots in small-town Canada may also be helpful dealing with the many small communities along the rally route. The story of agriculture in Canada is a story of rural communities and small towns, and understanding their needs and appreciating their strengths will be important. “I’m a pretty good listener, too,” he adds.
That kind of humility extends to how he feels Targa should be run. “There’s a terrific team on the ground that understands Targa, how it has evolved and what we might do together to make it stronger in the future,” he says. “I’m the one who has to learn.”
That’s not to say he doesn’t have ideas. “For competitors, I want to make Targa easier to enter and enjoy,” he says. “The exhilaration of participating lasts long after the event. But important safety, regulation and logistics can be intimidating for first-timers when they consider entering. We have the opportunity to make the process of entering more accessible. Our job is to provide a chance for thoughtful enthusiasts to drive great sporting cars, with like-minded people, on spectacular roads in a gorgeous province.”
“I also look forward to talking to potential sponsors about how we can grow the event together,” he concludes.
The small agricultural town of Blenheim will continue to be home for Thompson, wife Nancy, three adult daughters and two grandchildren. He will split his time between his Ontario home and his new project in Newfoundland.
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