One of the most sought after achievements to add to any racing champion’s resume is to tackle one of its oldest and arguably most dangerous events. The famed “Race to the Clouds” at Pikes Peak begins at an altitude of 9,390 feet and finishes in the thin air at the 14,110 foot summit. First competed in 1916 this is the second oldest motor sport race in America and 2013 marks it’s 91st running.
Last week we heard exciting news that 9 times World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb will be driving a specially designed Peugeot 208 T16. Their goal is to break last year’s record Pikes Peak run of 9 Minutes and 46.164 seconds set by Rhys Millen in a factory backed Hyundai Genesis Coupe.
Peugeot and WRC Champions are no stranger to Pikes Peak. Back in 1988 when the course was still mostly gravel, legendary Finnish WRC Champion driver Ari Vatanen drove a 600HP Peugeot 405 T16 to a then record time of 10:47.220. A film titled “Climb Dance” recorded Ari’s record run and became an instant hit among rally and hill-climb enthusiasts.
As sections of the course have increasingly been converted to tarmac over the years, Pikes Peak has been dominated by the mountain tamer himself, Nobuhiro “Monster” Tajima. Nobody knows the mountain better than Monster Tajima with his two course records and an unprecedented 9 class wins! Most notable was his record run in 2011 when he was the first to break the 10 minute barrier with a time of 09:51.278 in a custom hill climb designed Suzuki SX4. For 2012 “Monster” Tajima switched to an experimental electric car for his hill climb run. Unfortunately the car had problems and didn’t finish. We will likely see Monster Tajima back this year with an improved design that just might have an advantage over the air-breathing engines above 10,000 feet.
2011 was the last year that dirt and gravel remained on the Pikes Peak course. The peak course is now 100% paved to the top. This obviously has an effect on the times and is why Rhys Millen’s record run last year was unremarkably also below the 10 minute mark. However, Rhys Millen’s also has years of experience getting to know every corner on the course. In the top class there is no co-driver and no pacenotes. The entire 12.42 mile course with 156 turns must come from memory. Rhys has an additional edge in that he has learned from his father Rod Millen who has 5 class wins himself and a course record set in 1994. Will Rhys Millen be back to defend his course record in 2013? Unfortunately, Hyundai pulled out its support of racing in America at the end of last year, but that doesn’t mean they won’t potentially ask for a one-off defense of the record. And if not Hyundai, some other manufacturer might want to tap Rhys Millen to take their car to victory.
So do you think Sebastien Loeb and Peugeot have what it takes to conquer the mountain and create a new course record? On June 30th 2013, we’ll all find out.