For more years than we can count, we've threatened to make it to Colorado to experience the spectacle that is the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. Making it out this year was yet another logistical nightmare, so we've decided to live vicariously through our friends in attendance, while keeping tabs on our hero, Rhys Millen and his Red Bull Pontiac Solstice GXP.

We gave you the details on Rhys' ride last month, the same GXP that he's been sliding sideways since his GTO exited stage left. On Thursday, Mr. Millen made his way up the first section of the mountain in an absolutely scorching 5:32:756, taking first place in the inaugural Time Attack two-wheel drive class, and leaving his nearest competitor nearly a full minute behind.

He tells the tale in the press release after the jump, but one factoid in the text deserves note: he's running E85 in an effort to cope with the elevation changes and the high temps of running a turbocharged vehicle up the hill. According to Millen, his success is attributed to the combination of his sideways skills and the E85 engine's ability to keep cool under duress. They're not even running a spray system on the intercooler – impressive, to say the least.

Make the jump to get the skinny on the qualifying session, and be sure to check back tomorrow when we'll have an update on Rhys' overall performance at the Race to the Clouds.

[Source: GM]


PRESS RELEASE

Pontiac Solstice GXP And Millen Confident For Race To The Clouds

E85 Powering Solstice GXP Up The Mountain

With qualifying for the 85th running of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb completed, Rhys Millen and his Red Bull Pontiac Solstice GXP team set the fastest time in the Time Attack two-wheel-drive class. The team is now in the process of making final preparations for Saturday's race.

Millen ran his No. 6 Pontiac Solstice GXP up the first segment of the mountain in a time of 5:32.756. Making him the fastest two-wheel drive Time Attack competitor by almost a minute. The 15-year veteran of The Race to the Clouds is attempting to become the first winner of the new Time Attack classification. Wednesday's in high-elevation testing, Millen posted the fastest time among two-wheel drive vehicles (by nearly 30 seconds) and had three of the top five times in the two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive divisions combined.

Naturally, the Californian was pleased with his team's performance.

"I'm really happy with the quick time," Millen said. "We had at least 10 more seconds in the car as we did not get to run the final time up the hill, due to an accident further up the hill. When you come up to altitude, there is a 3% loss per 1,000 feet of altitude, so when you get to the starting line you are at about a 30% loss, so you need a turbo charged engine. Now that Pontiac has come out with the Solstice GXT model--which is the turbo charged model--this is the perfect car for the event."

One factor Millen did not anticipate was the road conditions. In the past, the hill climb was run around July 4, when Pikes Peak usually experiences more precipitation. Not this time around. As a result, Millen said, grip is a factor to consider.

"Just the overall grip of the top section was very, very low," he said. "Typically when we run here, in the 14 years I've run here previously, there are dramatic weather conditions. The past couple weeks with it being so dry, it has made the road very loose.

"As a driver, you have to be very committed to keep your speed, your momentum. We were running DOT-approved tires today with rear-wheel drive," he added. "In the 14 years I've run here, it's been about July 4th. Now it's three weeks later, and I'm sure that has something to do with the drier weather."

Fortunately, Millen's experience in racing drift cars has enabled him to make the necessary adjustments. For him, taking his drift car to the mountain is almost like coming home.

"This is kind of a 180 spin on the sport of drifting; I got into the sport of drifting because of my experience in sliding for speed in driving up Pikes Peak," he said.

"The sport of drifting got started in Japan where guys would race up the hills at night after the rain. That form of racing was brought to the states in the arenas as a sanctioned event. We've now brought the sport of drifting back into the mountains-not to be judged, but to race against the clock."

Not only have Millen and his team brought a new car to Pikes Peak, but they also came with a new fuel. For the first time they will use E85 in an effort to gain even more speed and performance from the Pontiac Solstice GXP.

"It's obviously something GM is pushing within their factory fleet of production vehicles," Millen said. "It's a fuel they've played around within GM Racing. Knowing the engine program we are using was being designed for drifting, we were going to see high engine RPMs, resulting in high heat soak. So the E85 would compensate for that and burn a lot cooler under those conditions.

"The engine actually doesn't get hot," he stressed. "The harder you are on the throttle, the more fuel you're putting into it, the cooler the engine runs. To give an example, at the starting line Wednesday, I was running at about 153 degrees Fahrenheit, and didn't get any higher than 156 degrees at the finish. By comparison, your average car on the highway runs at anywhere from 200 to 220 degrees.

"I think it's definitely an advantage," Millen continued. "When you come to a race like this, cooling is very, very important. In year's past we've run all sorts of spray systems, from water spraying the turbo charger intercooler to spraying the radiator. To date, we haven't turned any of that on, purely because of the E85 fuel."

Another advantage the Red Bull Pontiac Solstice GXP team has enjoyed is the opportunity to paddock with a local dealer, Mike Shaw Pontiac GMC.

"It's great. We get to utilize the benefits of the dealership, from cleaning the car to working in their air-conditioned bays," Millen said. "Today we cracked an exhaust manifold, and we had to pull from their resources of people they are familiar with, and we got a mobile welder to come over to the shop. My guys actually did the work, but they were able to use his equipment.

"They've also loaned us a vehicle for the week, which has allowed me to get up the hill, and that enables us to get up the road and view the road conditions in preparing myself for the next day."

Now that he has had an opportunity to test his car over three sections, not to mention a chance to size up the competition, Millen believes he has a good strategy for claiming his seventh overall title at Pikes Peak.

"The power that we've got and the grip that the Bridgestone tires provide should be the recipe for us to win Saturday," he said.

Millen points out that today was a crucial morning for making final adjustments to the car.

"It was the longest run we had, and it allowed us to get a good baseline of temperatures and chassis set-up," he said. "It has a change of asphalt to dirt making up 50 percent of the total climb, where the other days have been either 100 percent gravel or 100 percent paved.

"It also is the lowest section, where the engine tuning is critical. We did the final tuning for race day to get our air-fuel ratios tuned, which makes it safer as we go up the mountain."