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The Buffalo Peaks Hill Climb, held just outside of Buena Vista, CO, marked the fourth round of the 2009 Colorado Rally Cup Presented By Subaru, Flatirons Performance, and Flatirons Subaru. This Colorado Hill Climb Association event, held every other year, has emerged as one of the most challenging and anticipated events in the calendar as teams must salivate at the prospects of tackling the course for almost two years between attempts.

Adding a new twist to the battle for the front in the powerful Open and Group 5 categories were the returns to high-speed competition for Conley116.com driver Nathan Conley and the No Coast Motorsports Team of Grant Hughes and Mark Malsom. For Conley, Buffalo Peaks would prove to be his first high speed event in just under a year after he and his wife/co-driver, Brandye Conley, suffered a high speed crash at the 2008 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, in which both driver and co-driver broke their backs (neither occupant was paralyzed and both have returned to normal day to day activities). To help complete Nathan’s return to competition was interim co-driver Adam Kniepp, who stepped in to join the team for the event.

For the 2009 Colorado Rally Cup Presented By Subaru, Flatirons Performance, and Flatirons Subaru, teams were especially eager to place well to take maximum points into the mid summer break in the calendar. The excitement and drama took little time to unfold as on the first run the NOS Energy Drink AMS Performance team of Dave and Allison Kern went from being the front runners for the victory to suddenly being unsure if they would be able to complete a single run. Electrical problems had besieged the team’s NOS Energy Drink AMS Mitsubishi Evolution, sidelining the team for what would prove to be the entire event despite tremendous efforts from the team and their fellow competitors.

The drama didn’t stop with the Kern entry as Helton and Briton in their #970 Volkswagen GTi nearly suffered a weekend ending crash, Hughes and Malsom had their hood come loose and shattered the windshield in the teams Merkur XR4TI forcing the team to run the rest of the weekend with no windshield, and the McLaughlin Racing Rally Team of Ryan McLaughlin and Shannon Wilson suffered an assortment of race incidents leaving the team without a “clean” run on the first day as they suffered tire and suspension damage as they debuted their new Acura Integra rally car.

At the end of the first day, despite the drama and added excitement that was rife throughout the field, intense battles began to take shape. In the powerful Open category Nathan Conley and Adam Kniepp took no time getting back to speed as they powered their way to a second place qualification less than two seconds back of Jeff Regester. Close behind in third was the Salta Motorsports team of Steve Bis and Brian Moody who looked set to bounce back from a disappointing did not finish at the Tumbleweed Express Rally qualifying just four seconds behind Conley. Only one second further back was the Checkpoint Racing Suba Performance team of Mitch Williams and Ty Ashby. Donny Conley and Jason Herlache rounded out the Open Class field a further 3 seconds back from Williams and Ashby.

In the other divisions the battle in Open Light was as intense as ever as the Blue Groove Rally Team of Andrew Morton and Aaron Searle managed to maintain the slightest of margins over the Function Autosport Team of Tyler Patik and Chris Raymond qualifying just less than two seconds ahead. In Group 5 John Conley and Keith Rudolph would have their first real challengers in the No Coast Motorsports Team of Hughes and Malsom, however, the veteran team maintained their composure and championship leading form staying out front of Hughes and Malsom all weekend. Rounding out the classes was Group 2 who saw Ryan McLaughlin take the top qualifying spot in front of a hard charging Victor Fagan who felt poised to take his first class victory and cement his season points lead.

On day two, Sunday, most teams put the drama and excitement of Saturday behind them. While all teams stepped up the pace to maximum attack to try to improve their position very little changed from the qualifying positions. For the Open Class the battle between Conley and Regester continued to intensify with only 4 tenths of a second separating the two teams on the first run. On the second run Conley finally took the advantage by just over a second to post the best single run, but the margin was not enough to over take Regester overall leaving Conley finishing second. In Open Light Patik and Raymond regained their focus and stepped up the pace to pull in front of Morton and Searle on both timed runs leaving them with an advantage of over 7 second at the end of the weekend giving them the class victory.

In Group 2 McLaughlin and Wilson finally began to work out the bugs in their new car posting top times in the class while bad luck struck Fagan/Fagan putting the class win out of reach on the final run and nearly plummeting the team into third place. Unfortunately, on run one, a great weekend with marked improvement for Turner/Turner came unraveled as the team’s improved pace went for naught with a failure to finish on the first run leaving the team to wonder what might have been.

All of the teams will now enjoy a more than month long break from competition before heading into the penultimate round at the Lands End Hill Climb in Grand Junction, CO, held August 8 and 9 before finishing out the season at Rally Colorado September 19-20. Some teams will utilize the summer break in the Colorado Rally Cup schedule to pursue other competitions such as the popular MaxAttack series in Idaho held July 9-11 or the famed Pikes Peak International Hill Climb held July 19 in Colorado Springs, CO. For more information on the Colorado Rally Cup Presented by Subaru, Flatirons Performance, and Flatirons Subaru as well as photos, videos, updates from team activities during the summer break, and much more please visit http://www.ColoradoRallyCup.org.

About the Colorado Rally Cup:

The Colorado Rally Cup Presented by Subaru, Flatirons Performance, and Flatirons Subaru is a multi-organizational rally sport championship. In its second year, teams compete in 6 events covering three different versions of rally sport based competition in four different classes in events located throughout Colorado. In addition to Subaru, Flatirons Performance, and Flatirons Subaru, the Colorado Rally Cup is supported by, Salta Motorsports, Checkpoint Racing, and Kevin Hahn Photography.

Photo captions:

John Conley and Keith Rudolph kept their cool as they faced their first serious challenger of the season in the #441 No Coast Motorsports Merkur XR4TI of Grant Hughes and Mark Malsom to take first in the Group 5 class and extend their overall Colorado Rally Cup Championship lead.

Nathan Conley and substitute co-driver Adam Kniepp displayed tremendous amounts of commitment as they attacked the course in Nathan’s return to competition to post the fastest single run despite coming in second to the Battle Mountain Rally Team of Jeff Regester.

Ryan McLaughlin and Shannon Wilson battled teething problems in the team’s new Acura Integra on Saturday but on Sunday were able to avoid any major issues and take the Group 2 class win.

The No Coast Motorsports Rally Team of Grant Hughes and Mark Malsom made a return to competition at this event managing to push the pace of championship leading Conley and Rudolph all weekend despite having to finish Saturday and race all day Sunday with no windshield.
Mitch Williams and Ty Ashby charged hard all weekend in an effort to put the Checkpoint Racing Suba Performance Rally Team back on the podium after winning the Tumbleweed Rally overall in round two only to finish six seconds out of third place.

Jeff Regester of the Battle Mountain Rally Team drove with incredible commitment all weekend constantly putting down top times for all of the rally classes until the final run. His top time on Saturday and on the first run on Sunday netted him enough overall margin to emerge the victor of the powerful Open class despite relinquishing the position as fastest overall run holder to Nathan Conley on the final run.

Words: Colorado Rally Cup

Photos: Kevin Hahn Photography

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