TopGear.com at Pikes Peak: race report
Rhys Millen takes Colorado’s 90th race to the clouds, but that was only half the story
Posted: 14 Aug 2012
Well, how's that for a paradigm shift - a rookie beat a seven-time champion's world record, motorbikes are cracking into sub-ten-minute times, and the new all-tarmac course is catching out the local boys. Then there's the rather large, rather terrifying crash, which thankfully Jeremy Foley walked away from with only minor injuries.
But first, the awkward matter of 2012 favourite, Nobuhiro "Monster" Tajima, and his breaky-downy EV project... If you're unfamiliar with Pikes Peak royalty, Monster is, without question, the mountain's king. He's held the course record for seven years, besting it each year on the trot, and the 9:51.278 he posted in 2011 was the first in history to creep under the ten-minute mark.
He's also set up his own motorsport firm called Monster Sport specialising in rally and hill climb cars. Under the auspices of which he built an electric-powered racer called the E-Runner to try and beat his previous time. And things looked like they were shaping up nicely in practice; he didn't clock a full time (the hill's split into three sections for practice), but seemed happy enough with the car. Then, on the day, less than a third of the way up the mountain, smoke filled the cabin.
When he came off the mountain, he told Top Gear: "I saw smoke so I stopped the car. I had to be safe. We still don't know what the problem is, but until it happened the car was very, very nice. I'm now going to prepare for next year"
This left the winner's spot open for Pikes Peak veteran, Rhys Millen - he drove his Hyundai Genesis Coupe to victory, beating Monster's previous world record by 6.11 seconds on the faster, all-tarmac route. But the big coup was first-timer, Romain Dumas, who drove his Porsche 911 GT3-R up the hill, missing out on King of the Mountain by 17/1000s of a second. Dumas told us: "We're very happy with the time. Now we will take the car home, take off the body kit then drive it at a GT race in Macau." Smooth.
Then there are the bikers. Now, we usually don't give too much of a hoot about two-wheelers, but two people managed to make it to the top of the 12.4-mile course in under ten minutes. Carlin Dunne and Greg Tracey got their Ducatis up there in 9:52.819 and 9:58.262 respectively.
But the transition to an all-tarmac route hasn't seemed to have worked in other classes. Arizona's Todd Cook, driving in the Open Wheel division, told us "the road's got a lot narrower - I was racing here when it was all dirt and it's got a lot more technical since. The paving's brought a lot more people here, but it's also driven some away, and we're all experimenting with new setups. Cars are lower, and I've fitted mine with wider front tyres, but you can't really turn a dirt car into a pavement car."
Which could explain why the red flag made eight appearances during the weekend (though one of those was a drunken woman who had an argument with her husband that got out of hand - gotta love American motorsport). The most punishing of which was car 98 driven by local boy Paul Dallenbach. Last year, he made it three feet off the start line when his axle snapped. This year he made it a half a mile up the mountain before falling off the circuit into the tree line, ending his time on the hill.
In the EV class, though, the surface change seems to have done the trick. Five of the top finishers beat the previous record, which is at least a two-minute reduction - the class winner, Fumio Nutahara, driving a Toyota Motorsport TMG EVP002 was only 15 seconds from the ten-minute mark.
So, paradigm shifts left, right and centre. How this leaves things for next year's race remains to be seen, but we reckon we'll see a Monster coming over the hill... in less than ten minutes.