Here are the event with Hyundai, we enjoyed dinner with Rhys Millen got his take on what's happened and what's about to happen. Millen said the issue that caused his engine swap last week was minor, a head gasket (a production part) that was causing a bit of hesitation and a slight drop in top speed. He said it's the first time they've stressed the engines this hard, pushing boost pressures up to 19 psi at altitude, which equates to 25 psi at sea level. Offering testament to the strength of the engines, though, he said that Paul Dallenbach's engine did the entire 2012 drift season as well as Pikes Peak, and it's the engine being used again for the hill climb this year.
We also chatted with Dallenbach, who has come back from that beastly crash last year in the Unlimited category to lead almost every practice day this year in the Time Attack class. Telling us he's happier behind the wheel this year than he has been in 20 years, he asked us, "Know what my dashboard says when I turn the car on? 'Donuts at 14,000 feet.'"
For more on Millen and Dallenbach, Peugeot, Mitsubishi and Toyota, and where you can watch all the action, read on...
More on Millen: Millen and Romain Dumas were in two different classes last year but battled for the overall win and the course record. Millen took both with a 9:46.164 in the Time Attack class, Dumas, in the Open class, had set the early mark with a 9:46.181. They're in the same class this year, Unlimited, and Millen says "this year we're in the same predicament," with composite times in practices showing the two separated by perhaps a second. The open rule book in the Unlimited class means they're sticking together in very different machinery, though, Millen estimating that Dumas' Norma M20FCPP prototype weighs about 1,295 pounds, while his Hyundai PM580T is 2,350 pounds but has double the horsepower.
Speaking of that Hyundai, Millen said it is entirely his own product, from the general shape of its bodywork to the layout of its internals to the livery. When it comes to what it will take for that car to win, Dallenbach said, "It was just three years ago that if you were doing something in the elevens you were flying." Millen finished that with, "Now we're trying to make that first number an eight."
A Goliath named Peugeot and the media horde: Everyone we spoke to said it was good that Peugeot is here, but the consensus underneath seemed to be that Peugeot is bringing a repurposed Le Mans team to a grassroots race. We were told that Millen has about five fabricators and around ten people here with him at the race; we saw more Peugeot engineers than that – just the guys on computers – one day at lunch. Millen said he thinks Peugeot has 40-50 staff here, they've booked 600 room nights, the team rented the mountain for itself for an entire day and made three complete runs, and they've approached Pikes Peak like Audi approaches Le Mans. Said Millen, "Can we compete against that with what we have? That takes cubic dollars."
What needs cubic feet is space for the media horde. Pikes Peak veterans have told us that there might be 60 or 70 media here usually, this year there are 300 from dozens of countries; for instance, when we interviewed the folks at Mitsubishi we had to wait for an Indonesian crew to wrap up with the executive we were in line to speak to, while a Croatian crew sat at the next table. Millen said the crowds on practice days this year have been bigger than race-day crowds last year. That's mainly because of Peugeot and Loeb, but what promotes the two of them also promotes the race, which is a good thing. No one thinks Peugeot will come back next year, which could leave the heightened publicity and a better chance for other drivers to gain the top step.
On Paul Dallenbach, Peugeot and that crash: Few have mentioned it, but when Paul Dallenbach won the race in 1993 he broke the Peugeot record set by Ari Vatanen in 1988 and immortalized in the film Climb Dance. Here he is again, 20 years later, with Peugeot looking likely to set another record barring incident. He's moved down to the Time Attack class and is driving the Hyundai Genesis Coupe that Rhys Millen used to break the overall record last year, and he said this year is the most fun he's had in 20 years.
Most will remember Dallenbach – a six-time winner of the race – from the crash last year at the third turn when the throttle in his 1,400-horsepower purpose-built racer got stuck open. He recounted the crash for us over dinner, telling us that he walked the corner again this year and found parts of his car still down there, but couldn't understand why the skid marks, which are still on the road, stopped about 40 yards away from where he went off the road. Dallenbach said there was a loop at the top of the accelerator so he could pull the throttle back just in case it got stuck, but the metal wasn't strong enough and the loop merely bent out of the way. The panic braking caused the front suspension to collapse, that killed his brakes, and since the throttle was still stuck open the car accelerated off the edge. When the investigators went to examine the car, they knew exactly what had happened because the throttle cable was still wedged in place, the throttle still open.
Until he got into Millen's Genesis Coupe three weeks ago, Dallenbach hadn't been in a race car since the accident. Three out of four days topping the practice timesheets make one think that it might be a very happy return to the cockpit.
What paving the road has done to the race: Made it more dangerous, according to everyone we spoke to. Dallenbach said "The dirt was more spectacular but it was slower. It was also four feet wider so you could mess up and spin it out. But now speeds are so high that when you break traction you spin right off the road. In the dirt we were hitting about 138 miles per hour, last year I did 150 mph in four places. Now that I'm back to 138 mph [in the Time Attack class] it's fun again."
Rod Millen, driving the Toyota TMG POO2, said, "Before we had a much wider gravel road and there was some corners that I could sort of partly straight line and carry more speed. Now, I've got to go around following the ribbon of pavement, so it's created a few corners that have sort of – I've gained a little more respect for them. In the past, I sort of blew them off. I could just power through those ones, whereas now, 'Uh oh, that one's a corner I've got to get around as well.'"
Greg Tracy, driving the Mitsubishi MiEV Evolution II, has won the race six times in several bike divisions. He said, "The pavement picks up the speeds, so you get to go off the cliff into the trees carrying 50 mph more than you were in the dirt."
For Rhys Millen, the pavement has made the race just as challenging, in a different way, but a little less fun. When the road was dirt it required more knowledge, he said. "You really had to hunt the groove to get traction, but you could be six feet to the left or the right and still have traction if your vehicle was efficient." Now that the road is paved, "there's a drain or a ditch that you can't touch anymore, a guardrail that you can't hang the tail over. It's gone from 'This is so much fun' to 'I can't believe we're pushing this car this hard.' At the end of the day, though, it's satisfying to adapt."
What Jean-Philippe Dayraut is really driving: We've been calling Dayraut's car "the monster Mini," but it's actually the same VIP Challenge Dacia Duster tube-frame chassis from last year with different bodywork and a more powerful, 850-hp engine. Dayraut took third in the Unlimited class last year and won Rookie of the Year. He's been in the top four during practice sessions all week and says he's gunning for second place, after the unbeatable Peugeot.
What Mitsubishi wants to achieve and the "sports car" connection: Mitsubishi took second last year in the Electric class with a time of 10:30.85, about 15 seconds behind the Toyota, and they took that personally. We were told the company targeted a time of 9:30 this year – a time they thought would be good enough to win the race outright before Peugeot showed up. To get that, they put a ton of work into this year's car: they added more batteries and moved the array from the sidepods to the floor; top speed has gone from 110 mph to 140 mph; they added another motor – instead of the three from last year, this year's car has four; they installed a more complex All Wheel Control system derived from that in the Lancer Evolution; they developed more complex electronics to manage the power and added ABS. The result is a car that Greg Tracy and Hiroshi Masuoka have been using to dominate the time sheets in the class.
For Mitsubishi, the point of being here is to test electric components that might "find their way into an electric or electrically-assisted sports car." Masuoka, who works for Mitsubishi as the EVP of corporate planning and EV operations, said, "Our goal is to produce a driver-friendly, fun-to-drive car that anyone can get in and drive fast. The data we get we can apply to an electric vehicle or an electric sports car." He said his ultimate goal would be a sports car that would allow the driver to dial in the amount of power on tap, from a 150-hp Eco mode to a 300-hp sports-car mode.
Of course nobody would specifically say "This is for the next Lancer Evolution," but that was the subtext we picked up among our conversations. Masatoshi Hasegawa, the EVP of electric vehicle operations, sales strategy and corporate planning for Mitsubishi Motors North America, said "My personal comments are that I think the pure-bred sports car is going out of trend. You need performance and ecology together, that's where this is important." Hasegawa wouldn't say that a new Lancer Evolution is on the way, but he would admit that Mitsubishi just had "a kickoff meeting" to discuss the approval of a range of vehicles, and we gathered that the Lancer was among that discussion. The challenge is that "the Lancer is a global platform, so we have to take that into consideration," and there are larger issues for MMNA to work on before getting to a niche vehicle. However, the overwhelming feeling we got is that, as of today, a Lancer Evo with some sort of electric component is in the planning stages.
As for the rest of the brand in the US, Hasegawa said "We cannot cover every segment, but for the future I would like to see three sedans in the B, C and D segments and three SUVs in the compact, medium, and upper segment." The Outlander fills the medium segment now. When we asked what kind of larger SUV he was talking about, he said something that competes with the Ford Explorer, and "I think people would recognize the name 'Montero.'"
On Greg Tracy's voodoo: We asked Greg Tracy, who has won Pikes Peak in the bike divisions six times but hasn't raced a car in 15 years and has never raced up the mountain in a car, why he's so fast in the MiEV Evolution II. His answer: "I don't know." He's run the tables in the division during practices, and unless something goes wrong today he's looking very good for the win. It's not like he's a stranger to incredible performances, though - last year he broke his back while doing promotional work for Ducati exactly one week before the race. He came back to race in the top 1205 bike division - he said his crew had to lift him onto the bike - and he came in second, missing out on first place by just ten seconds.
Where you can follow today's action as it happens: Red Bull TV will be streaming the entire event here, you can listen on KRDO NewsRadio 105.5 FM and 1240 AM, live timing and results here, or follow the Pikes Peak Facebook and Twitter pages. If you lose all those links, just go to the Pikes Peak site and click the Follow Live tab at the top of the page. The live stream on Red Bull TV starts at 7 am Mountain time (6 am PST / 9 am EST), the green-flag drops at 8 am Mountain Time.
The run-of-show: Competitors run fastest to slowest, based on qualifying, within their division. The bike division will run first, in this order: Pikes Peak 1205, Pikes Peak Superbike 750, Heavyweight Supermoto, Pikes Peak 450, Pikes Peak 250, Quad Modified, Vintage Motorcycle, Side Car, Exhibition Powersports, Exhibition Powersports-Z.
Then there will be a break to escort the bikes down from the summit and have the new car parade. Then the car divisions will run in this order: Unlimited, Time Attack, Electric, Open Wheel, Pikes Peak Open, Exhibition and Pikes Peak Vintage.
The entire running order for the day has been released, you can find it here.
And now there's nothing else to do but enjoy the race.