The El Toro Marine base in Irvine, CA has seen its fair share of automobiles. The open runways are a playground for sports cars, and on any given day, you can find high performance driving schools or testing sessions utilizing the vast expanse of pavement. This week, however, El Toro was on the receiving end of something very, very different. Rhys Millen and the rest of his crew have been hard at work over the last six months creating a monster of an automobile built for just one thing - win the Pikes Peak Hill Climb. They have brought out the car, dubbed the Hyundai Genesis PM580, for a test and tune session ahead of race day on June 27.
El Toro seems an unlikely place to test a car that will be making an ascent up a 14,000 foot mountain, but Rhys told us it's actually quite ideal. The runways offer nearly identical amounts of traction as the paved portions of the mountain course, and provide more realistic feedback than the smooth surface of a racetrack.
While this might sound like an opportunity for serious hoonage, the Millen camp is all business. Their mission is simple: climb Pikes Peak in less than ten minutes. The team knows that everything has to be perfect if they are going to achieve their goal, so their preparation is methodical and meticulous. Many have tried to break the ten minute mark in the past twenty or so years, and while many of come close – very close – none have been able to do it. However, after spending a day with Millen and his crew, we think he's got the potential to do it if anyone can. Make the jump to find out why.
Photos by Drew Phillips / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.
1. The Name
Racing is a family sport. Just ask anyone with the last name of Andretti, Earnhardt, Unser or Petty. The Millen name can be added to that list as well, particularly in the context of Pikes Peak. Rod Millen, Rhys' father, is a veteran of the Race to the Clouds. He dominated the mountain in the 1990s, claiming the fastest overall time on four occasions. The elder Millen also held the overall course record for thirteen years, running a time of 10:04.06 in 1994 with an AWD Toyota Celica.
2. The Man
Rhys might be best known for his drifting and insane attempts at flipping monster trucks, but he's proven himself many times on the mountain. He has won his class nine times, most recently in his Genesis Coupe that he normally competes with in Formula Drift. His time of 12:09.397 broke his own record for the RWD Time Attack Class and was more than twenty seconds faster than any of his competitors.
3. The Motivation
To break the ten minute mark at Pikes Peak is clearly enough motivation for anyone competing in the Unlimited Class. Only one person can be first, and whoever does so will forever have that crown in the history of motorsports. Rhys, however, has an additional piece of motivation. We mentioned earlier his father's record stood for 13 years. In 2007 Japanese driver Nobuhiro Tajima narrowly broke Rod's record with a time of 10:01.408. With Pikes Peak playing such a large role in the family's racing history, Rhys feels it's his job to bring the record back into the Millen family.
4. The Timing
While talking with us during the testing session, Rhys told us he feels that the record will be broken either this year or the next. An additional section of the course has been paved over, meaning that there will be more traction on a larger portion of the course. On the other hand, hay bales have been added one some sections as well, making the road narrower. Rhys thinks the modifications to the course probably cancel each other out, but given the right car, one might be able to take advantage of the changes. It's one of the reasons why he's making the attempt this year even though the development of the car just started six months ago in January.
5. The Car
Most of the cars you see run at Pikes Peak are based on something, even though the association might be minimal a best. The Genesis PM580, however, is completely built from scratch. The only hint of a production car is the engine, a Hyundai 3.8-liter V6 that has been stroked out to 4.1-liters. Rhys proudly tells us that the stock block and heads are still in the car. Everything else, however, is all custom built. The carbon fiber body is bolted to a unique chromoly frame and roll cage, all designed by the team at Rhys Millen Racing. The car looks like nothing we've ever seen, as if a closed-cockpit Le Mans prototype had a fruitful one night stand with the Batmobile.
The PM580 is surprisingly thin. In fact, it's about a foot thinner than a prototype racecar. Rhys informed us this was done intentionally for two reasons. First, it cut down on a significant amount of weight. Second, the thinner body will hopefully allow Millen to navigate the thinner portions of the course more easily.
The aerodynamic package is aggressive, but different than what the typical racecar might have given no restrictions. Rhys pointed out to us that the rear wing sits low and tight to the body of the car instead of up high. While it does create downforce by colliding with the air over the car, it actually serves a dual purpose by drawing out air from underneath the car, creating a suction and additional downforce. The wing itself is adjustable as well, and will automatically adjust angle depending on wheel speed, throttle input and steering wheel angle. That means it can virtually lie flat while Rhys is going full throttle down a straight or it can stand up straight under hard braking and cornering.
Along with aerodynamics, multiple aspects of the car were designed to provide the maximum amount of traction. Dual Quaife differentials can allocate torque between the front and rear tires, allowing for various torque splits depending on the available traction. One interesting fact is that the car is actually running a Toyo street tire. Yep, the 275/40/17 tires on Rhys' racecar are ones that you can actually buy for your road car. He tells us that the higher tread wear rating actually helps maintain grip throughout the course, and the tires do well on both the slippery gravel and pavement portions of Pikes Peak. Stopping power is provided by a set of carbon ceramic Brembo brakes and pads, which peek out behind a set of lightweight 17-inch HRE wheels.
The aforementioned V6 has been fitted with an HKS turbocharger pushing 15 pounds of boost, and according to a recent dyno test, is producing right around 775 horsepower and 750 lb-ft torque. That might sound like a lot, but Rhy's rival Tajima will be bringing more than 900 horsepower to the fight. The one advantage Millen does have, however, is less weight. The PM580 weighs in at a little over 1900 pounds fully loaded, while Tajima's Suzuki is around 500 pounds heavier.
With every horsepower needing to motivate just under 2.5 pounds, it's obvious that the Hyundai-powered rocketship is fast. In fact, with its AWD system and sticky Toyo tires, it's just about one of the fastest things we've ever seen on four wheels that isn't powered by nitromethane and methanol. The first time Rhys fully mashed the throttle our jaws dropped at how fast the car could rocket across the pavement. It viciously accelerates from any speed and looks downright scary to drive. Under full throttle the front end actually lifts about three inches, nearly completely compressing the rear suspension system. After one of the first test sessions we asked Rhys what it was like to be behind the wheel. He answered, "It's not like anything I've ever driven!"
Even with a competitive car and his experience, Millen will have a tough road ahead, both literally and figuratively. Nobuhiro Tajima hasn't rested on his laurels in the off season, making aerodynamic and powertrain changes to improve his car from last year. Millen will be arriving at Pikes Peak as the underdog, racing in the Unlimited Class for the first time and with a brand new and unproven car. Still, Rhys maintains a quiet confidence in both his team and his own abilities. "I wouldn't be here if I didn't think I could win," he told us.
We won't predict what will happen come June 27, but what we can do is bring you live coverage of the event. Be sure to check back here for our extensive Pikes Peak Hill Climb coverage starting on Wednesday, June 23 for daily updates. History, hopefully, will be made.
Photos by Drew Phillips / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.