The road ahead

Cog Rally drivers prepare for championship series' fastest race

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Andrew Comrie-Picard slides around a muddy corner during a practice run for the Colorado Cog Rally Friday. Racing begins Saturday at 8 a.m.

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Driver Brian Scott accelerates through a curve during a practice run for this weekend's Colorado Cog Rally. Racing will begin Saturday at 8 a.m., and there are several prime spectator viewing areas around the town of Hayden.

If you go

Fans interested in watching today's free Colorado Cog Rally events should consult the rally Spectator Guide, available at www.coloradocogra..., for mileage, directions and specific arrival times at spectator areas, or go to the single service area and main spectator area at the Routt County Fairground complex in Hayden.Fans interested in watching today's free Colorado Cog Rally events should consult the rally Spectator Guide, available at www.coloradocogra..., for mileage, directions and specific arrival times at spectator areas, or go to the single service area and main spectator area at the Routt County Fairground complex in Hayden.

— A couple of years ago, Steamboat Springs resident Chris Moore decided he wanted in on the action. After watching rally car competitors travel from all reaches of North America to race on the county roads in his backyard, Moore invested in a 1977 two-wheel-drive Dodge Colt and entered in last year's Colorado Cog Rally in Hayden.

"I've always been a car guy, but I was never into track events," Moore said. "It's more money to get into, and you're dealing with experienced drivers crashing into one another. With rally, it's one on one, you against the course."

Getting ready to race in the Group 5 division of Saturday's Middle Cog-1 Regional Rally - a 10-stage, 69-mile rally race - Moore had one priority: finishing this year's race without flipping.

While Moore sits on one end of the rally totem for this weekend's three-race event that takes place on some of Routt County's most unforgiving and unpaved roads between Steamboat and Hayden, Travis Pastrana sits on the other.

Catapulted into the national action-sports spotlight after landing the first double-backflip in freestyle motocross competition last month, Pastrana looks to defend his lead in the Rally America National Rally Championship with today's finish of the 17-stage, 106-mile Colorado Cog National Championship Rally, the seventh stop on the nine-event championship series.

Although Pastrana has a few things Moore lacks - corporate sponsors, a highly-modified open class Subaru Impreza WRX STI and a traveling entourage that includes the No. 1-ranked co-driver on the series, a crew of technicians and marketing and hospitality directors - he has the same basic strategy.

After overshooting a turn last year - at what he said were speeds of about 115 mph, Pastrana flipped nearly eight times. He walked away unscathed, but his car was destroyed.

Pastrana said the Colorado Cog is his favorite rally event.

"It's real jumpy and the fastest rally - it doesn't have trees," Pastrana explained. "Like how skiing a slope with trees is scary, this race is fun trying to be aggressive because its open and it feels safer, so you push farther."

In the car

Pastrana was not the only racer excited to test his vehicle's limits on the Colorado Cog's open, hilly roads. Open division driver Brian Scott allowed me to strap into the co-driver passenger seat of his WRX for a Friday practice run on a shortened two-mile stage set up on C.R. 44. Although all rally cars are street-legal production vehicles, the inside of these cars have so many modifications - from the bucket seats to the retro-fitted roll cage - that they hardly resemble anything you would find on the factory floor.

My view immediately shifted outward as Scott accelerated to 90 mph in a matter of seconds, then tapping the clutch and rapidly downshifting to slide through turns.

Adjusting techniques to both wet road conditions and to an all-wheel drive vehicle, Scott said he was focused on setting his car's angle sliding into the turns.

"I've tried other kinds of racing," Scott said after the run. "This is definitely the most intense."

Staying flexed in my seat with my eyes locked on the road, I couldn't imagine adding the co-driver's responsibility to that intensity. Having never seen the course prior to the race, the co-driver must constantly flip through both a route book and stage notes to direct his driver, keeping track of distances to constantly communicate turn angles and stage orientation.

"This rally is notorious for having no rhythm," Scott said. "It's a key component for me to hear my co-driver."

Scott's co-driver, John Millon, who won the Cog Rally as a co-driver in 2004 and placed third last year, understated his vital role.

"Everyone wants to be a rock star," Millon said. "Well, I want to be the sound guy."

Kim DeMotte, a 60-year-old co-driver who has spent the past 36 years immersed in rally car racing, described the job as giving instructions at a machine gun rate and letting his driver interpret them with his hands and feet. Now leading the production GT division nationally, DeMotte said he and his driver, Matt Johnson, have a simple goal in the two-day rally - focusing on the next 500 yards of road ahead of them.

- To reach Dave Shively, call 871-4253 or e-mail dshively@steamboatpilot.com

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