Rally cars navigate turns, kick up dust

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— Crowds periodically ooohed and aaahed as they watched tricked-out Subarus, Volkswagens, Mitsubishies and Hondas navigate slick hairpin turns in Hayden's Dry Creek Park during the Colorado Cog Rally on Saturday.

Taking a small jump at speeds up to 54 mph, the cars kicked up clouds of dust as they sped past crowds and wound through a series of curves during Special Stage No. 4.

"You're getting to watch everything your mom told you not to do in a car," said Curtis Kitchen, public relations manager for the Sports Car Club of America.

In its fourth year, this is the first time the Colorado Cog Rally has been part of the SCCA ProRally Championship and aired on the SPEED channel.

During the event, which started Friday and lasts until tonight, street legal cars with the added armor of roll cages and safety harnesses compete for the fastest times in stages.

The rally was supposed to have 16 stages, but Stage 2 on Routt County roads 56 and 74 was canceled because conditions were too dangerous after Friday's rains, Kitchen said.

Despite last week's downpour, however, overall race conditions were better than organizers expected, he said.

Mark Tabor, who competed in an Acura with co-driver Kevin Poirier, said that although the first stage was smooth and fast, the third stage was a bit trickier.

"It was pretty rutted, which makes it interesting to drive," said Tabor, who with Poirier was celebrating in the car service area at the Routt County Fairgrounds after clinching the 2004 ProRally Production Class Championship title.

Overall, the two said the course was straighter and faster than what they were used to in their home state of Oregon.

Kitchen said there are 38 teams competing in the pro rally and club rally races. The teams, made up of a driver, co-driver and service crew came from throughout the United States.

During the rally, drivers push the limits on roads they have never been on before. For each stage, the driver and co-driver get a packet of directions that are broken down into one-hundredths of a mile and tell drivers what the road will do, Kitchen explained.

The co-driver's job is to relay the directions to the driver.

"Communication has got to be open, and both have got to be right on," Kitchen said. "The ones together the longest, more often than not, will do better."

The rally is fun for spectators who get to see how the cars perform under the most intense conditions, he said. For drivers, it's a chance to put their hard work to the test.

"They want to prove their cars are the toughest," Kitchen said.

Volunteer Mary Duran of Steamboat said she was having "loads of fun" recording the times of the cars as they crossed the finish line. A penchant for speed inspired her to help out with the event.

"I like to go fast, and I like to watch the world rally on TV," she said.

The Cog Rally will continue today with cars taking off from the Tennis Meadows parking lot in Steamboat at 9:01 a.m. The 2004 Spectator Guide, available at the Sheraton Steamboat Resort, Super 8 Motel, Steamboat Motors and The Bottleneck, gives directions to areas where people can watch the race.

Spectators also may go to Dry Creek Park south of the fairgrounds in Hayden for Special Stage No. 13 at 11:25 a.m.

-- To reach Tamera Manzanares call 871-4204 or e-mail tmanzanares@steamboatpilot.com

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