2012 Monster Sport E-Runner Pikes Peak Special

2012 marks a special year for the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. For the first time in the event's 96-year history, the entire course is paved, beginning a new era in the Race to the Clouds. While many are bemoaning the loss of the gravel and dirt (us included – the dirt was great for photography), the fresh pavement is bringing plenty of new faces and cars to the event. Interest in this year's hill climb was so great that organizers are contemplating expanding the event to two days for 2013.

Much of the new vehicles for this year are in the Electric division. Normally filled with one or two entrants, this class features some of the most interesting cars this year, including two Mitsubishi iMiEVs, a prototype from Toyota Motorsports GmbH and a BMW E36 M3 converted by EV West. The biggest news, however, is that reigning Unlimited Class champion Nobuhiro "Monster" Tajima has swapped out his Suzuki SX4 Hill Climb Special for an all-new machine called the Monster Sport E-Runner. Our curiosity about this incredible looking vehicle was so great that we skipped out on our usual subjects from the Unlimited and Time Attack divisions to see the new electric racer in action along with the Pikes Peak Open, Stock Car, Exhibition and Vintage classes.

2012 Pikes Peak Hill Climb2012 Pikes Peak Hill Climb

The Japanese driver didn't disappoint, setting blistering times of 4:14.8 and 4:13.3 in the two practice sessions. To compare, Tajima set times of 4:45.9 and 4:33.8 last year, albeit those were partially on dirt.

Unfortunately, another driver in the Electric division didn't fare so well. Hiroshi Masuoka, driving the Mitsubishi i-MiEV Evolution, overshot a corner and crashed in the second practice session.

Also of note is the Porsche 911 GT3R being driven by Frenchman Romain Dumas in the Pikes Peak Open division, the Lexus IS F CCS-R being driven by Ken Gushi and a mean looking Lister Knoop/Mann Special being driven by Rick Knoop in the Exhibition class.

You can see our photos from the first practice day of the 2012 Pikes Peak Hill Climb in the gallery above. Check back tomorrow to see our coverage of what's new in the Unlimited and Time Attack classes.