By Mike Shaw
Rally Colorado emphasizes the “Super” in it’s ARA Super Regional status. 38 teams descended on the small town of Rangely, Colorado for the annual event which was revived back in 2017 and joined the ARA calendar in 2019. Although dubbed as a regional, the event spanned two days and 130 stage miles worthy of challenging any national competitor and their machinery in the hot and high desert mountains. In addition to being part of the Western Regional Championship under ARA, Rally Colorado also doubles as part of the California Rally Series.
Competitors came from all over the country in this second event to run under the American Rally Associations new contact-less Covid-19 restrictions. 38 entries might not seem large, but it’s almost double what this remote event usually has and the town or Rangely welcomed them with socially distanced open arms. The Western teams were especially anxious to get back behind the wheel with this being the first event of the their season after the cancellations of Oregon Trail and the Idaho Rally as well as rescheduling of Olympus to November due to the global pandemic.
One of the most recognizable names on the entry list was that of X-Games star Bucky Lasek, returning to stage rally for the first time since working with Vermont Sportscar back in 2016, however the favorites to win had to be Dave and Mike Brown. Although they might not have the global star power of Bucky, the Brown Brothers are Colorado natives with hometown support and have claimed overall wins in 2017 and 2019. They’d have their work cut out for them this year though as their Naturally Aspirated 4WD Subaru would have to take on high performance McKenna Motorsport run Fiesta R5s driven by Martin Donnelly, Ryan Booth, and Paul Rowley. Others sporting higher horsepower machinery and high up on the start order included the Limited 4WD and Open 4WD class entries of Travis Nease, Chris O’Driscoll, Flynn Baglin, and Mark Tabor, all with turbos and a big power advantage in the 5000+ foot mile high altitudes of the event.
This was a write your own notes open recce rally, and for those that arrived early they had both Thursday and Friday to get them just right. For several competitors this was their first time making their own notes, which for this event would be a huge challenge. Although a mountainous region, the area is best described as high desert consisting of countless blind crests and curves that change direction with few visual references of where the road goes. As Travis Nease and Danny Norkus stated in our Rally Colorado Preview RallyCast “I’ve never been to an event where you had to be so on the notes before.” The open recce format though was a bit of a relief to Julien Sebot driver of the #425 O.D.D. Racing Fiesta R1 “This is only my second rally…and was the first time I had blind crests and jumps, so we worked extra hard on recce. It was great that there was 2 days, as we did 3 passes on all stages and 4 on the trickiest as well as video reviews.”
As is typical with any rally event, the weather would be a factor. With high’s in the ’90s the teams would be battling temperatures as much as the altitude sapping more energy from the drivers as well as the machinery. Although not humid like SOFR, the temps would still require teams to load up with water to prevent dehydration. Dust would also be a factor. The lack of trees would help as a slight breeze can quickly clear the worst of it, but just as often the dust can can be blown in the direction of the road making it as bad or worse than dense fog.
With all the prep done, Friday night would normally have been time for Parc Expose with fan interaction, but with Rally Colorado being another spectator free event, Parc Expose was cancelled. Still, the town of Rangely insisted on going ahead with the annual parade of rally cars so the locals could see all the diverse machinery and wave at the competitors. Many came out to see the teams, socially distanced of course, from their parked cars, sidewalks, or front porches. Rangely loves being referred to as “Rally Town USA”, and with the their support of the event, it’s hard to argue giving them such a title .
Unfortunately for Chris and Michelle Miller, the town parade was all their car could take, and their rally was over before it properly started. Michelle posted on social media “Rally Colorado didn’t quite go as planned; blowing the engine during the parade. We have no idea why as she tested great and there were no typical indicators of potential failure. The quest for a new engine failed, but @lennydoesnothaveinstgram and @battlesedan were at least able to pull the motor so we are one step closer when we get her home and dig in to see where things went wrong.”
The opening loop on Saturday would challenge teams with the 12 mile Valley of the Gods stage to start, followed by two 10 miles stages and the final 4 mile sprint of the Cathedral stage before only a single service for the day. At the front of the field, it was obvious who had their morning coffee as Dave Brown shot to the front on the first stage with a 25.1 second lead over our RallyCast guest Travis Nease. A trio of McKeanna Motorsport’s R5s trailed behind with Paul Rowley, Ryan Booth, and Martin Donnelly 26.5, 39, and 40.5 seconds back respectively.
As the Brown Brothers predicted, their lead was going to be tough to hold as Ryan Booth and new co-driver Nick Dobbs got into their groove using the power and suspension of their top line machinery to chip away with stage win after stage win finishing the loop with a 3.5 second lead over Dave and Mike. Unfortunately the challenging long stages of the first loop would prove to be a bit too much for several teams with a combination of mechanical issues and lack of concentration catching them out. Bret Hunter and Melissa Sherowski’s Zombie CRX went into limp mode, brake issues for Eliza Coleman and Rhianon Gelsomino’s Scion, and Bucky Lasek and Krista Skucas broke an axle. Paul Rowley and Claudia Barbera-Pullen had an off in their Fiesta R5 causing it to roll. Although slightly shaken, both were okay thanks to the safety features in today’s rally cars. In total 9 cars would suffer issues by the time they entered the first service.
Teams would then have just 45 minutes to make repairs, get a bite to eat, and re-hydrate before heading out for a repeat of the same stages. The pace increased on the second loop, but dust became more and more of an issue as the ground up dirt turned into “moon dust” that hung in the air. Being first on the road, Booth put the hammer down with his clear view ahead and although the Brown Brothers tried to stay in touch by clocking second fastest times all day long, they lost nearly two minutes to Booth’s R5 by the end of the Day. The two Martins, Donnelly and Brady in the remaining McKenna R5 kept consistent 3rd overall stage times through most of Day 1, but didn’t quite have the speed to catch Brown and Booth.
After keeping top 5 times, Travis Nease and Danny Norkus ran into fuel delivery issues causing their Mitsubishi Evo VIII to come to a stop on SS5. Michael Cadwell and Robert Maselli’s BMW 1 series suffered broken bolts with their suspension, and although Bucky got going again with penalties the second GC Subaru of the Rally Ready squad driven by Dave Carapetyan would also run into issues. By the end of the day, more than a quarter of the field would suffer issues from the challenging roads.
Day 2 would be a bit easier, but only just. This time just 3 stages instead of 4 in the two loops, but they weren’t going to be easy. It began with a repeat of the previous day’s Cathedral stage of just over 4 miles, but then the real work would kick in with the 10.8 miles Douglas Creek and 12.1 mile Dragon Trail stages. The top 3 maintained their dominance for the most part, but a brave push from rally restart Dave Carapetyan showed that he can set times with the best of them including a 3rd fastest overall on SS9 and top 4 times most of the day until the last stage where he was 6th fastest. #326 Flynn Baglin and AJ Hakala were a bit too aggressive in a tricky section on SS10 in their new to them Evo X that AJ described as a “150/kinks & !!BigCr, L2, R2.” A few cars later the #232 Subaru of Mark Tabor and Kathryn Hansen ended up in nearly the same spot, just 10 feet away. And even though there was a drivers bulletin about this section, a 3rd car, that being the #905 BMW of Peter Guagenti and Matt Rhoads also decided to join the party. Of the 38 entrants, 24 would finish the world class stages of Rally Colorado.
For the overall victory, it was a nearly perfect event for Ryan Booth and Nick Dobbs in the #689 McKenna Motorsport Fiesta R5. Although this was Nick’s first ever co-drive, they won all but one stage and finished with a lead of 6 minutes 36.3 seconds over second place with a final time of 149:48.3.
“The stages were absolutely unbelievable. They had everything from rough and technical to fast, smooth and open stages. There were some extremely sketchy spots with lots of exposure as well as a couple of really fun jumps. It is definitely one of my favorite rallies that I’ve done so far. I would love to see those stages in a national event. The town seems very in support of the rally too which was great. I had one of my high school friends, Nick Dobbs, navigate for me so the goal was just to have some fun and see if it’s something he’d like to continue doing. We both did 2 days at Team O’Neill a couple years ago when I first was entertaining the idea of starting stage rally. To say I tossed him into the deep end would be an understatement! I don’t know if there’s ever been any co-driver that has jumped straight into an R5 as their first ride! He actually did amazing for this being his first rally as well as his first time sitting in an actual race car. We’re both looking forward to Ojibwe!” – Ryan Booth
They might not have won, but Dave and Mike Brown still put on a hell of a show against exponentially more advanced machinery. Even after a controversial jump start penalty putting them a further 2 minutes behind Booth and Dobbs their performance was such that it didn’t affect their overall position. Although a bit frustrated, Dave was still happy to get such a good result
“Rally Colorado stages are definitely the most challenging in the country and just making it to the finish is a huge accomplishment. This year the event saw entries of several high end open class cars with really fast drivers, so I knew I was a long shot for a third overall win or even a spot on the overall podium. On stage 1 Mike and I dominated the competition and got the overall stage win by nearly 30 seconds despite catching some serious dust from the car in front of us. From that point forward Ryan Booth quickly began learning the Colorado terrain in his R5 and we would be second to him on every remaining stage. Ryan is a great driver and had an amazing car so he definitely deserved the win and I’m very proud to get 2nd overall against so many great competitors!” – Dave Brown
In 3rd overall were Martin Donnelly and Martin Brady in the #172 Fiesta R5 also run by McKenna Motorsport. Co-Driver Martin Brady told us that they were happy with the podium finish, especially with the added challenge of it being Donnelly’s first time doing notes from scratch and their first event working together.
“It was my first time sitting with Martin in his R5, but I have known him for many years from competing against him both at home in Ireland and here in the USA, so we got on great together in the car. It was the first time in Colorado for us both and Martin made notes for the first time, so recce was a lot of work with so many stage miles to cover and a few puncture delays, but they are great stages and the two days allowed to recce was a great opportunity. We set out with the goal of finishing every mile, learning the car, and improving notes and that’s what we did. Ryan and Nick were on a brilliant pace and pulling just another bit away with every stage so we became even more comfortable at our own pace. Sometimes we lost time with Martin just not trusting his notes. We would get through the corner and think it was too cautious an approach and then sometimes find the odd corner too optimistic, a common thing when you have just started making your own notes, but we had no moments and sailed around to our 3rd place finish making it three cars for the McKenna team in the top four. That was something we were all very happy about.” – Martin Brady
Although not heavy on entries at only four, the Limited 4WD class had two of the fastest drivers with Travis Nease and Flynn Baglin regularly setting top 5 overall times until their events came to an early end as we noted earlier. That left the #220 DR Racing 1991 Subaru Legacy driven by Diego De Castro and co-driver Dan Quiet as well as the #730 Outback Sport of Donnie Smith and Chris Nicholls to survive to the end. Diego and Quiet put on a great effort moving up from a 21st overall at the end of the first stage to an impressive 10th overall and the Limited 4WD class win.
“This is my 3rd year running the Rally Colorado. After switching my 1991 Subaru Legacy Turbo from rallycrosser to fully stage care back in 2015. It’s always been a project with friends and family since the beginning which is what makes me even more proud of what we were able to accomplish this weekend. The car is very much outmatched in the case of power and technology, with most cars being at least a decade it’s junior, but there’s one thing this car has that the others have struggled with… Reliability and dependability. A close friend best described it as ‘bringing a knife to a nuke fight, but the knife always cuts!’ Due to me not running many events, my seeding isn’t ideal so we found ourselves catching competitors in the 1st loop of stages on day one. On the second loop there was confusion at regroup and a slower car regrouped out of sequence, causing a backup of 3 cars on stage 5, including ourselves. The 2 cars in front of us were able to cycle ahead but we unfortunately weren’t able to. On SS 6 we caught the car about 1/4 of the way into the stage and the dust and visibility was zero. At this point it was bad enough that my co-driver ended up getting sick and we had to pull over while he recovered, losing almost 3 mins on stage. This ended up working to our advantage as we ended up with a two-minute window on SS7. We still caught heavy dust from the slower car within the last mile, but had a clean run up till then. At the end of the day we are worked our way up from a 28 starting position to 16th overall and 2nd in Limited 4WD with a decent gap to 3rd. “
“Day 2 the mentality was don’t bleed time and just finish. I knew how tough the stages were and how hard they were going to be on the cars. I was happy with being able to repeat a surprising second place from last year which looked possible again this year. My co-driver however had a different plan and called me out for not being on my attack game. We set out for the final loop and I pushed where possible. On the stage 10 where 3 cars ended up going off, we had our trunk rip open as a latch broke mid-stage. We were able to finish the stage and a competitor loaned us a ratchet strap so we could finish the final stages. We were celebrating a 2nd place transiting to FTC, and it was only after we pulled in to impound that Dan’s wife gave us the news that we are finished 1st! It was definitely a shock as the top guys were fast, but I’m so proud of the team and the car for finishing strong. I think a lot of people forget that motorsport is a team sport as it seems drivers gets all the glory but I know we wouldn’t have done all we did without all the friends and family to help us get there. So this one is for them!” – Diego De Castro
Once again the Open 2WD class was going to have some of the closest competition even with the wide variety of machinery. It also had the most entries to start the event including Brad Morris’ JRD Rallysport built Mirage we saw introduced at SOFR, a bevy of BMWs, a couple McKeanna Motorsport run M-Sport Fiesta R2s, a Scion XD driven by Hollywood stunt woman Eliza Coleman, and several others. The class also had what was probably the most unique entry of the event and our personal favorite, Verve Racing’s 1985 Toyota Tercel that was converted from 4WD to RWD.
Unsurprisingly the Fiesta R2s got off to a strong start with the #109 of Gary Smith and Matt James leading the field, but they would have to watch their back as Brad Morris and Michael Hordijk worked to find the limits of their Mirage. Unfortunately, that limit was found on SS4 and although they returned under Rally Restart rules, the time penalties meant their chance at a podium was effectively zero. McKenna Motorsport teammates Cian McCormack and Leon Jordan in the #184 Fiesta R2 quickly moved up the overall order. At only 17 years of age, this was Cian’s first rally event and he was catching cars all day, even getting class stage wins on SS6 and SS7. Unfortunately, a fuel tank problem put an end to his event on SS8, but definitely a kid to keep an eye on!
It would be the #720 BMW of Roger Matthews and Ryan Dunham, and of all things Verve Racing’s #722 Tercel piloted by Steve Olona and Lauren Purkhiser that would keep Gary and Matt honest throughout the weekend. Although outclassed in hardware at the front, the “fun wheel drive” teams had their own battles to contend with. Olona and Purkhiser traded stages with the #455 BMW of Grant Hughes and Mark Malsom multiple times on day one, then on Day 2 bested Matthews and Dunham on several stage, but they were just a bit too far away to gain another podium position finishing a still impressive 3rd in class and 7th overall. 2nd in class went to Matthews and Dunham with a lead of 51.2 seconds over 3rd place.
It was however the #109 of Gary Smith and Matt James that put the hammer down and showed just how powerful the little McKenna Motorsport M-Sport Ford Fiesta R2 is with consistently top 5 and never worse than a top 7 stage times all weekend. That isn’t to say that they didn’t have a “moment” or two out on stage.
“The stages were unbelievable, each one had a little bit of everything: fast flowing, tight, twisty and some extremely tricky sections with big consequences. It was the 1st rally myself and Matt James have done together. We gelled pretty well, pretty quickly. We had a good Recce and felt really comfortable with our notes so we set out to give it a good blast through the 1st loop of stages to see where the pace was at. Into 1st service, we were surprised to see we were leading the O2WD class and 6th overall. The McKenna Motorsport R2T was great through the stages. It absolutely loves corners and was great through the twisty bits. They’re a fantastic little car! We had a bit of a moment on SS6, Earls Revenge, where I misheard a note on a 3 left, leading to a close call with nature; but, other than that, day 1 was pretty uneventful. We had a nice lead in O2WD going into day 2, but the nerves were starting to kick in Sunday morning. We were holding 4th overall but the gap to 5th was closing. We wanted to keep up the pace but didn’t want to do anything silly either. We felt very comfortable on SS9 and the pace seemed to continue where we left off the day before. Stage 10/13 (Douglas Creek) was extremely difficult with really tricky sections at the top of the mountain. The heat was starting to take its toll on us on Stage 13, with it being over 110 degrees inside the car, so we had a lapse in concentration and had a half spin on loose gravel at a hairpin. We got back going with only a few seconds lost. Some nice cool bottles of water provided by the Marshal’s at the end of the stage went down a treat. Our favorite stage was the last of the day, Dragon Trail, which was extremely fast. We had a couple of big slides and big laughs on that one. It was brilliant! They definitely saved the best stage for last. Overall it was a fantastic weekend, a well organized and run event. Social distancing and all, it was good to get back to some sort of normality, to be back on the stages and great to get the O2WD class win. Shout out to all the crews who made it out to Rally Colorado, especially the McKenna Motorsport crew who gave us a great car and done a great job, as usual, all weekend” – Gary Smith
Although their typically lighter minimum weight can make up for the lack of power vs. the other 4WD classes, the Naturally Aspirated aspect of NA4WD would be a bigger struggle with the high altitudes and heat of Rally Colorado. The exception to that rule was of course Dave and Mike Brown who dominated the class with a 2nd overall, but there was still some good competition farther back. The Rally Ready squad of Bucky Lasek and Dave Carapetyan laid down top 3 in class times, but both ran into issues where they had to retire and return under Rally Restart rules with massive penalties. Although more well known for competing in Rallycross, stage rally isn’t new to Lasek and although not the overall result he wanted, he was happy to get back on the stages
“I got together with Texas Dave at Rally Ready and the fellas to make my first come back behind the wheel of a rally car since being with Subaru and Vermont Sports Car back in 2016. I drove Aaron Kaufman’s GC Impreza that he built for the “Shifting Gears” TV show. It’s an over engineered car with weight and performance not being of much thought and proved to be a bit of a handful. With that said the Rally Ready crew and I did our best with the time given to make what changes we could. The stages proved to be the most difficult I’ve ever encountered with steep rocky cliffs and blind off cambered crests that were very testing to my car and driving it at its limit. I was still able to put in overall competitive times during the rally but a broken axle at the start of SS2 which ended any chances of a podium push. Nonetheless I had an amazing time back behind the wheel with Krista Skucas is a very informative co-driver, as I made my return to not only stage rally but making my first recce notes from scratch. Thanks to Rally Ready and their entire team for this great opportunity and I look forward to helping make the car a bit more competitive for our next races.” – Bucky Lasek
Although their final position was 19th overall, Bucky and Krista would have finished in the top 10 if not for their mechanical issues. Not a bad comeback after 4 years away from the stages for the X-Games star. Meanwhile teammate “Texas Dave” and co-driver Robert Amato did a bit better with fewer penalties and finished 4th in class and 11th overall.
Best of the rest in class was #60 Krishna Gandhi and Jake Baxter. They got off to a quick start and consistently set top 10 overall times all weekend long leading to a much less dramatic 2nd place finish than last year where some may remember their roll on the final stage and still making it to the end. Keeping up the consistency to round out the NA4WD podium was the #817 Mitsubishi Galant VR4 of Mad Cheshire Racing that rounded out the class podium.
If the NA4WD cars were feeling a bit winded in the thin air, then the non-turbo Limited 2WD machinery was down right anemic. Don’t tell that to driver Julien Sebot though, because he and co-driver Alex Gelsomino somehow got their #425 O.D.D. Racing Fiesta R1 all the way up to 9th overall with a dominant 6 minute lead over their closest rivals. This was only Julien’s second stage rally event and he was super excited with the result.
“This was the first time I had blind crests and jumps so we worked extra hard on recce. It was great that there was 2 days, as we did 3 passes on all stages and 4 on the trickiest as well as video reviews. With confidence in the notes I was able to commit on the dozens of crests. The R1 was very slow so every time I was lifting it was taking forever to get back to speed (though thankfully O.D.D. put a closer gear ratios that helped a lot). I was redlining in first gear pretty much every steep hill climb (so like a quarter of the rally!). It was awesome roads and very fun, we even got to jump the little anemic fiesta (there was a photographer so waiting for the pics! 🙂 ) The stage where I did the best was the one with the large drops and the danger calls as it was a great equalizer. I was still mostly flat and barely ever got to use less than full throttle. We really only had one small moment on stage 13 when we understeered at low speed through a sand box into a bank, but it left not even a scratch on the car, so we took it easier for the rest of the rally as we had 5 minutes on the next competitor and were 5+ minutes behind the one in front. The car ran flawlessly, the notes were good and at the right time, we drove that fiesta all out (at least for me) nearly the whole rally. I’m already planning on coming back next year!” – Julien Sebot
One thing I kept hearing again and again from all the competitors was just how well run this event was and how friendly the people of Rangely are. I think it’s safe to say that every team in North America should put Rally Colorado on their list. It has the altitude and complexity of a WRC Mexico, right here in the states. Should it become a national? Only time will tell, but it certainly has the stage miles and the support of the local community which are two things hard to come by these days.