On June 26th, competitors for this year's Pikes Peak International Hill Climb will once again race to the clouds in hopes of breaking the elusive ten-minute mark, but the famous mountain might have something to say about that. Three inches of snow fell on the summit yesterday, with temperatures just below freezing. Fortunately, the weather for race day looks to be more conducive to racing, although the elements in Colorado at 14,000 feet are famously unpredictable. "It's really the mountain that decides what happens," says Race Director Phil Layton. "The mountain has a spirit of its own and it throws things at you."
Weather aside, the chances of someone setting a new record time at Pikes Peak is better than ever. Additional portions of the 12.42-mile course have been paved, leaving only a small stretch of dirt that will wait untouched until next year when the entire course will be covered in asphalt. The additional tarmac could provide a few precious seconds that could make the difference between a good time and a historic time.
Like last year, we'll be at Pikes Peak to witness each of the drivers tackle the mountain, with daily coverage starting tomorrow. To give you a taste of what's to come, we've put together a preview of what and who to look out for, and who could become the next King of the Mountain.
The main attraction – Unlimited Class
Much of the attention for the Pikes Peak Hill Climb is given to the drivers in the Unlimited Class. Essentially driving vehicles with little to no restrictions when it comes to performance, these daring few men are the ones who will be contending for the overall best time.
The odds-on favorite is five-time champion and overall record holder Nobuhiro "Monster" Tajima, who came close to cracking the ten-minute barrier in 2007 with a time of 10:01.408. Monster will once again be piloting his 910-horsepower Suzuki SX4 Hill Climb Special, a car that he hopes will bring him his sixth straight victory.
Hoping to take the title from Monster is Rhys Millen, who will be driving his RMR Hyundai PM580 that had a rough debut at last year's race. With little time to develop the car, Millen experienced several teething problems throughout the practice and race days, eventually nursing the car to the finish line with a finicky transmission. During our visit to a recent test session, it appeared that the car was still suffering similar problems, but we'd bet the RMR team can have them sorted out by race day. A new aerodynamics package and a refined suspension setup should help as well.
A local favorite and Pikes Peak veteran, Paul Dallenbach will be returning to the mountain in his open-wheel racer to contend in the Unlimited Class with new support from turbocharging specialists Banks Power. The two have teamed up to add more than 550 horsepower to his big block Chevy V8, which now produces 1,307 horsepower and 1,206 lb-ft torque. The extra thrust will undoubtedly improve his chances at a faster time, and the forced induction should help his car maintain power at the higher elevations near the summit.
Also competing for the Unlimited Class will be Jean-Philippe Dayraut driving an 850 horsepower Dacia Duster and Dave Carapetyan, who will be behind the wheel of a specially constructed Mitsubishi Evolution 959.
The former king returns
Rod Millen, father of Rhys, is a legend at Pikes Peak, and will be making a return to the mountain for the first time since 1999. Having won the Unlimited Class five times and holding the overall record for more than a decade, the elder Millen will undoubtedly be able to turn in a fast time. He'll be driving Rhys' Hyundai Genesis drift car specially prepared for the hill climb, a car that held the 2WD Time Attack class record until last year. Rod will be up against a tough competitor, though, in the form of his good friend Jeff Zwart. A seven-time class champion at Pikes Peak, Zwart was the one to break the 2WD Time Attack record in a Porsche 911 GT3 Cup, and will be returning in a brand new Porsche 911 GT2 RS with the backing of Porsche Motorsports North America. While having 150 more horsepower than last year, Zwart will also have to deal with more weight and a manual transmission rather than a sequential shifter. Perhaps most interestingly, he drove the car from Southern California all the way to Colorado Springs for the race.
No gas Required
Only a handful of electric vehicles have competed at Pikes Peak, most recently a Custom Summit HER-02 driven by Ikuo Hanawa that set a new EV record for the race in 2010. Hanawa is back again for 2011, and he will be joined by two additional electric vehicles. An unmodified Nissan Leaf will be driven by veteran off-road truck racer Chad Hord, and Chip Yates will be riding an electric superbike that will be entered in the Exhibition PowerSport class.
Other Notable Entries
Stephan Verdier, a two-time Pikes Peak rally class winner, will be driving a 2011 Subaru Impreza WRX STI 123 in the Time Attack 4WD class.
Savannah Rickli will be making her second attempt at Pikes Peak after becoming the youngest female to ever compete in the event at the age of 16. She will be driving her Mini Cooper S in the 2WD Time Attack class.
Doug Siddens has built a custom Polaris RZR with a 998cc Yamaha engine producing 300 horsepower that he will run in the Exhibition PowerSport class.
For more details on the event including a full schedule of events and ticket information, visit www.ppihc.com. And be sure to check back tomorrow for the first day of our live coverage.