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The CHCA Lands End Hill Climb, held August 8-9, 2009, outside of Grand Junction, CO, marked the 5th round of the Colorado Rally Cup Presented by Subaru, Flatirons Performance, and Flatirons Subaru. This event, held on the Lands End road features a demanding 5.2 mile long course of the Grand Mesa and consistently proves to be a real test of drivers and equipment as teams battle steep ascents and high ambient temperatures.

As the penultimate round of the championship the Lands End Hill Climb saw many season long battles begin to firm up on Saturday during practice and qualifying. In the powerful Open classification Dave and Allison Kern elected to keep their NOS Energy Drink AMS Performance Mitsubishi Evolution in full Pikes Peak specification producing close to 600 wheel horsepower. Hoping to stay in touch with the powerful Mitsubishi were Nathan Conley and Adam Kniepp in their Conley116 Subaru WRX STi, Steve Bis and Brian Moody in their Salta Motorsports Subaru WRX STi, and Donny Conley in his Redline Pipeline Subaru WRX STi.

In the lower displacement two wheel drive Group 2 Class Lands End would mark a return to competition for 2008 Colorado Rally Cup Champion Jeremy Brown in his Toyota MR2 as well as stiff competition from Victor Fagan, Aaron Helton, and Jared Carpenter. In Open Light the battle between the Function Autosport Rally Team of Tyler Patik and Chris Raymond and the Blue Groove Rally Team of Andrew Morton and Aaron Searle, continued to intensify.

After the practice and qualifying rounds had been completed some intense battles began to take shape throughout the field. In the Open Class it was clear that Kern and Kern were going to be the favorites taking an 11 second advantage over Conley and Kniepp with Jeff Regester and Duncan Smith less than a second back of Conley and Kniepp and Bis and Moody as well as Jimmy Keeney and Lori Woods seven seconds back and separate by less and a tenth of a second. Rounding out the field in Open were Donny Conley and Chris Herlache who were running their car in full rally trim instead of hill climb specification and found themselves down on power to the rest of the field. Making the battles more interesting was the fact that Regester and Keeney were not running the Colorado Rally Cup Championship but the Colorado Hill Climb Association Championship only complicating strategy for CRC teams on Sunday.

In Group 2 Brown showed that despite the long period off he was still the man to beat in the class qualifying eight seconds in front of Carpenter, 15 seconds in front of Fagan, and 17 seconds in front of Helton. The field in Open Light however was much tighter after practice and qualifying with Morton and Searle leading Patik and Raymond by less than 2.3 seconds over the 5.2 mile course. With both teams in nearly identical vehicles Sunday would prove to be a real drivers battle with absolutely no room for errors.

On Sunday teams were greeted with the prospect of a “blue groove” course over most of the 5.2 miles and were optimistic of fast times and new records. In Open the Kern’s maintained their position stretching their lead to 12 seconds despite Conley and Kniepp dropping 4 seconds on their first run and Bis and Moody dropped 5 seconds to consolidate their third place position in the Colorado Rally Cup standings. In Group 2 Carpenter and VanStrom dropped 15 seconds from their qualifying time to close in on Brown who improved a further 9 seconds leaving the margin at just over 2 seconds in Brown’s favor. Fagan dropped 3 seconds and Helton suffered an unfortunate fuel delivery problem causing the team to not finish the run and taking them out of contention for CRC points.

In Open Light the battle of the two teams only intensified making theirs the battle to watch for the rest of the weekend as Patik and Raymond responded to Morton and Searle’s advantage to post a .67 second faster run and close the overall gap to just 1.6 seconds. With the margin so close between the two teams a missed shift, missing a braking point by only a couple of feet, or any other bobble by either team could prove to be the winning margin. For the second runs Morton and Searle responded by trying to drive deeper into the turns to be able to carry more speed. Unfortunately this meant going wide on a couple of turns and loosing traction giving the team a time 2.5 seconds slower than their first run. Knowing their competitor would be attacking the course to maintain his advantage Patik and Raymond took the course with a strategy of keeping their lines clean and trying to not make a mistake that would cost them the race without slowing down. The less aggressive approach of Patik and Raymond proved to be effective with team posting their fastest time of the weekend on the final run to take over the lead and put both teams in a dead even tie in season points as the season heads into the final round at Rally Colorado.

In Open the final run saw the leader board get turn on its head as the intensity of the competition as well as the changing course conditions began to take their toll. First, Conley and Kniepp suffered a spin just past the start line that cost the team 5-7 seconds. Then, mindful of the plans to head to the Ojibwe Forest Rally in just 2 weeks the team elected to park their Subaru WRX STi instead of risking damage that would force them to miss the rally. Following Conley and Kniepp on the road were Kern and Kern, who, wanting to improve on their record time for last year had decided for a maximum attack strategy. Unfortunately for Kern and Kern their more aggressive approach resulted in missing a braking point at the first real sharp corner on the course, sending the team wide and just off of the road, with their hopes of a record time dashed and damage to the intercooler on their Mitsubishi they elected to pull over instead of risking further damage. The problems of the top two teams causing them to not complete their runs then sent Steve Bis and Brian Moody in their Salta Motorsports WRX STi into first and Donny Conley and Jason Herlache into second.

Running in the Group 5 class uncontested were John Conley and Keith Rudolph in their Dodge Neon SRT-4. Having been dominant all year long in the classification Conley and Rudolph continued their mature and steady season long strategy of clean lines and steady drives all the way to besting their 2008 record of 5:33.96 with a time of 5:30.76. The teams fast and measured driving all year long has lead to top times and consistent finishes all year long and put the team in a commanding lead for the Colorado Rally Cup Overall Championship heading into Rally Colorado.

The final round of the Colorado Rally Cup will be Rally Colorado, held outside of Steamboat Springs, CO, September 19-20, 2009. This event will serve as round 8 of the Rally America National Championship as well as the final round of the Colorado Rally Cup Presented by Subaru, Flatirons Performance, and Flatirons Subaru. Featuring over 100 miles of flat out racing over the two days this even represents the largest points total for the Colorado Rally Cup with a maximum of 60 points available in each class.

Victor Fagan and Steve Bis each have commanding points leads in their respective classes but not enough points to have guaranteed their Colorado Rally Cup class championships. John Conley is already a mathematical champion in Group 5, but Victor Fagan remains within striking distance for the 2009 Colorado Rally Cup Overall Championship, which Conley currently leads. The final round will determine the remaining championship battles with Fagan and Bis needing only to finish, a difficult feat in some years past and whomever finishes ahead of the other in the Open Light class taking the season victory. Please visit http://ColoradoRallyCup.org and http://www.RallyColorado.org for more information as well as spectating information for the 2009 Rally Colorado.

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.

Words: Colorado Rally Cup
Photos: (c)2009 KevinHahnPhotography.com

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