Article by Brian Hannon. Photography by Corey Davis and James Harris.
The 10-minute barrier stood for a long time, like a carrot dangling in front of those competing in the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. In the Unlimited Class, it taunted Rod Millen and Monster Tajima for years, letting them get within seconds ever since Millen posted a 10:04 in 1994. Finally, in 2011, Monster finally broke through with a 9:51 run in his extreme Suzuki SX4. What’s most significant about this record is that he broke the barrier before the course was paved.
Now, two years later with a fully paved course, could we see the nine-minute wall shattered? Let’s take a look at some of the drivers and their machines that are gunning to take the crown as king of the mountain at this year’s hill climb, smashing course records along the way.
Let’s start with the current overall record holder, who blazed up the course last year and lowered the bar to 9:46.164 with his Time Attack class-winning Hyundai Genesis Coupe. Rhys is certainly no stranger to the mountain, having notched his first win in 1997 in a Toyota Supra. He is also well known for his exploits in Formula Drift, D1GP, Global Time Attack, and various RallyCross series.
This year Rhys has gone back to a more or less one-off Hyundai RMR PM580-T for his attempt at the record. His team has taken the chassis from a Daytona Prototype (think Grand-AM, 24 Hours of Daytona) and modified it for hill climbs. More downforce and more power was the order of the day, and it was delivered in the form of a custom aero package as well as an 850+HP, 4.1-liter turbocharged V-6. Featuring a sequential transmission, the only disadvantage this car will have is that it’s the only rear-wheel drive car, so putting the power to the ground could be a challenge.
As part of the expanded French invasion at the Hill Climb this year, Romain Dumas has his sights set on Rhys Millen. Last year Dumas held the record with his Porsche GT3R until Rhys snuck by with one of the last clean runs of the day, besting him by less than two-hundredths of a second. Dumas hopes to ride a wave of success after his recent GTE-Pro class win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, as he quickly changes gears from the Mulsanne and prepares for Pikes Peak.
In a drastic departure from last year’s GT3R, Dumas is piloting a Norma M20FC PP. For those unfamiliar with Norma, they build chassis for endurance racing as well as the various European hill climb series. Yes, hill climbs are extremely popular in Europe; they are even sanctioned by the FIA. It is motivated by a turbocharged Honda K20 producing 450HP and puts the power to the ground via a six-speed sequential transmission. It may seem a bit underpowered, but it should be the lightest of the group of contenders.
The next Frenchman who has a legitimate shot at the record this year is Jean-Phillipe Dayraut. He is also no stranger to the mountain, having raced a very non-stock Dacia Duster the past few years in the Unlimited Class. He had a great run last year until he suffered from brake issues toward the top, resulting in an off track excursion that tore up the left side of his car. With a strong background in ice racing with the Andros Trophy (barely losing the 2012 title to none other than Formula One legend Alain Prost), he is extremely adept at car control.
Dayraut is yet another driver who has abandoned last year’s ride for a new steed. Enter the Mini "No Limit.” Yes, Mini, and a very capable one at that. He hasn’t actually abandoned last year’s car at all though. It’s the same old chassis now shod with Mini Countryman skin but still motivated by a Nissan GT-R derived twin-turbo 3.8-liter V-6 now pushing over 900HP. It also doesn’t hurt that the car has gone on a 160lb diet from last year. We are expecting quick times from Jean-Phillipe if he can get a clean run on the tarmac this year.
If you don’t know already, Sebastien Loeb is a pretty famous name. We went over his accolades in our Pikes Peak intro article, so we won’t rehash that. What we do want to point out is that since he first turned a wheel on the course, he has been the fastest. By a lot! In Tuesday’s practice, he was a whopping 24 seconds up on the next-fastest driver, who happens to be Rhys Millen. And that is just for one section of the course. We honestly feel that the nine-minute barrier is in danger. Whether or not the mountain lets him break through is another story.
His Red Bull rocket was designed and built by Peugeot Sport, where they raided the parts closet for some high end. Both the rear wing and front splitter are taken straight from their 908 Le Mans endurance racecar. Using what seems to be the most popular engine setup, the Peugeot 208 T16 Pikes Peak has its thrust provided by a twin-turbo V-6, 3.2-liters in this case, which is good for 875+HP. Like the Hyundai, Mini, and the Norma, the engine is mounted in the middle for the best balance. Loeb gets the added benefit of AWD and massive tires to help corral the power as it’s fed through a six-speed sequential box.
Nobuhiro "Monster” Tajima
While he is certainly a dark horse this year for the overall title, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention the first man to break the ten-minute barrier, Nobuhiro "Monster” Tajima. What made his feat even more remarkable was that he accomplished it before the whole course was paved! Tajima has an extensive background in rallying and has been competing at Pikes Peak since 1995 (also the first Japanese competitor in the Hill Climb). And in spite of his nickname, he is one of the nicest and most gracious competitors you will meet in the paddock. It’s hard to find him without a smile on his face.
In 2012, his record attempt in an all-new Monster Sport E-Runner Pikes Peak Special (in the Electric Vehicle class) was showing promise with practice times indicating that he, Millen, and Dumas would have been neck and neck. Unfortunately, an electrical fire just past the start line cut his run short, but he vowed to return so he could prove what EVs are capable of accomplishing. With another year of development under the Monster Sport team’s belt, he’s ready to attack the mountain again.
His Monster Sport E-Runner is built around an aluminum space frame and shod with carbon fiber body panels. It has a pair of electric motors powering both the front and rear wheels, with the energy coming from a Mitsubishi Heavy Industries MLiX Lithium-ion battery. The best part about the electric power is that unlike his competitors with combustion engines, Monster’s E-Runner won’t lose any power as the others gasp for air during the ascent.
Do we expect the current record to be broken this year? Absolutely. Do we expect the nine-minute barrier to fall? If the mountain cooperates, absolutely! And who knows, there could be a sleeper in the Electric Vehicle class that trounces all of these guys. The competition will be amazing, so if you live in Colorado or the surrounding states, you have no excuse not to be here!