2010 Pikes Peak Hill Climb Practice Day 2 - Click above for high-res image gallery

As I headed up the Pikes Peak toll road early this morning (3:30 am to be exact) I started to doubt whether it was going to be worth it. Maybe it was the fact that I got just a little over two hours of sleep, or maybe it was the lack of oxygen, but as I passed 12,000 feet my head began to cloud-over and all I could think about was a nice, comfortable bed. It didn't help that I was driving on a mountain road in pitch black darkness at 10 mph sandwiched between a string of other cars. To make matters worse, a fierce, bitter wind greeted me as I parked the car just a few miles below the summit, and the fog was so thick I couldn't see more than a hundred feet. This was going to be miserable. What was I thinking?

And then something magical happened. As I stood shivering on the side of the road with camera in hand, a small glow appeared in the eastern sky and the fog started to lift. As more light started to brighten the area around me, the incredible beauty of the most famous mountain in America was brought forth in stunning fashion. The entire sky was lit with an orange glow, broken only by a few small clouds that looked like wispy strands of cotton. Suddenly an engine roared to life, breaking the peaceful silence, and minutes later an open-wheel racecar roared past at near-triple-digit speed, the rear end cocked out sideways and the driver applying loads of opposite lock to avoid hurling off the edge. It was amazing. Incredible. I've been to plenty of motorsports events, but this tops them all. The matchless beauty of the surroundings juxtaposed with such incredible machinery being pushed to its absolute limit is like nothing else on earth. I could have left right then and it would have all been worth it. Fortunately, I still had more than three hours of it to enjoy. Follow the jump for more impressions from the second day of testing for the 2010 Pikes Peak Hill Climb.

Photos by Drew Phillips / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.

Practice for the Pikes Peak Hill Climb consists of three days of testing, and while that might seem plenty sufficient, we can't imagine that all of the drivers feel completely prepared on race day. All of the competitors are split up into three groups, each of which takes on a different portion of the course each day. That means one driver gets one day of practice on each portion of the course, and there are a maximum of about five runs a day. Needless to say, that's not a lot of practice.

Since the big story this year is the battle between Nobuhiro Tajima's Suzuki and Rhys Millen's Hyundai, I chose to follow their group which consists of Unlimited, Open Wheel, Time Attack, Stock Car and Rally America. The cars ran on the middle portion of the course yesterday, which is has the most pavement of the route, but consists mostly of slow, tight turns and switchbacks. With Tajima dealing with drivetrain troubles, Millen claimed the fastest time of the day by three seconds ahead of the next driver and was ten seconds ahead of Tajima at the end of the day. It's not too surprising, given the road-racing look of his car. The true test would be how he would fare on the upper portion of the course which requires much more downforce and grip on the slippery dirt surface.

Unfortunately the results from today's practice weren't yet in the media center and they haven't arrived in my inbox. The only thing to go by are the handful of passes the cars took in the morning. Millen started out quite tentatively, making a fairly slow run to start, perhaps to get adjusted to the levels of traction on dirt. On the next few runs Millen picked up the pace, but from the looks of it he was struggling for traction, both in braking and acceleration. The rear of the car was constantly squirming around, especially coming out of low speed corners.

Tajima's Suzuki, however, looked insanely fast. On one particular pass he tore through a right hand corner easily faster than any other car during the day, covering me with a shower of small pebbles and rocks even though I was more than 30 feet off the road. The name Monster is truly deserved. My best guess is that Tajima outpaced Millen by a decent margin in the upper portion of the course. Of course, the bottom portion is still to come tomorrow, so I'll reserve final judgment until I see the cars and the official times from today.

I'll have another report from Pikes Peak tomorrow evening about the final day of practice and qualifying, but until then check out the high-res gallery of live shots below. In addition to Rhys' and Tajima's car you can see some pretty cool open-wheelers, Mitsubishi and Subaru rally cars, a Mustang and Camaro in the Super Stock category, a Porsche 911 in the Time Attack class, and even a lime green Shelby Cobra with an awesomely huge wing.

Photos by Drew Phillips / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.

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