2012 Pikes Peak Hill Climb: Insanity at 14,000 Feet
Technically known as Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, but in the automotive circles, all you have to say is "The Hill Climb." It is an entirely unique and one-of-a-kind event. Sure, there are plenty of hill climb events throughout the world, but none combine the heights achieved, and the harrowing, unruly terrain found at the summit of Pike's Peak in Colorado. It is an officially sanctioned FIA race, and on their annual event calendar. In the past, it has featured entrants from SCCA ProRally and Rally America. What makes the race so unique is that the top entrants create purpose built Pike's Peak cars. It is much like how Le Mans prototypes would be specifically tailored versions, made for the high speeds achieved on the track. Unlike those "Le Mans" specials, many of these entrants are built and ran only for this one event. What also makes the Hll Climb so special are the incredible variety of racers all tackling the more than twelve mile course.
But it wasn't always this way. The Peak was originally named "El Capitan," by Spanish settlers, but was later renamed to Pike's Peak. Zebulon Pike Jr. was an explorer who ventured into southern Colorado in 1806. Pike's Peak was later changed simply to Pikes Peak, and was central in gold mining in Colorado through the second half of the 19th century.
The Peak was used for a major contribution to the automotive and aeronautical world in 1918, when Dr. Sanford A. Moss lugged a Liberty 12 airplane engine to the top of the mountain. The engine was fitted with an experimental turbocharger, that would help engines maintain their power at higher altitudes. The turbo eventually found their way into automobile engine. The rest, as they say, is history.
Prior to the 1918 turbo testing a Colorado Springs man, Spencer Penrose, thought the area around his town and the mountain would make a great tourist attraction. He converted the narrow gauge road up the mountain to a partially paved highway, called Pikes Peak Highway. Needing a way to get people to come to his new tourist attraction, he decided to hold a simple race to the top of his new highway and called it the Pikes Peak Auto Hill Climb. It was held on August 10-12, 1916.
Today, the race runs 12.42 miles. In that 12.42 miles, each racer will encounter 156 turns, climb 4,720 ft, and reach a peak altidute of 14,110 ft- that is, if they can finish. There is little, if any, protection from the extricating drop-offs found at just about every turn, and it is not in common for an entrant, or two, or several to wind up going over the side, in a death roll. Imagine being behind the wheel of one of these cars, tumbling without control down the steep, rocky hillside. As the vehicle continues to roll, body panels, and bits of the chassis start to fly off, and you pray that the guy who built your roll cage is a decent welder.
Hoping to make the road safer to racers as well as the tourists who drive up the road, the previously unpaved sections of the road were paved last year. Before, about halfway up the track, the road turned to dirt, and thats where things got hairy.
It is theses dangers that the likes of Mario Andretti, Al Unser, Bobby Unser, and many others have braved for their chance to stake a claim as fastest on the mountain. Bobby Unser is known for winning the open wheel division (the longest-running division in the event) eight times in ten years, but the master of this hill is not merely a man, but a monster.
Nobuhiro "Monster" Tajima is a Japanese driver, who took the overall best time away from Rod Millen in 2007. Millen's record of 10:04:06 was originally set in 1994, at the wheel of an all-wheel-drive Toyota Celica. Tajima bested this 13 year old record at the helm of a heavily modified, mid-engined Suzuki Sport XL7. He put up a time of 10:01.408- a time he beat last year with a mid-engined SX4, breaking the lauded "10 minute barrier" with a time of 9:51.278.
[caption id="attachment_11470" align="alignnone" width="593" caption="Millen's '94 record setter"] [/caption]
This year, Rod's son Rhys is at the wheel of a heavily modified Hyundai Genesis Coupe, while Monster Tajima is piloting an electrified prototype of his own design, and under his own team name. Will either of these racers have what it takes to break the 10 Minute barrier? Check out the Hill Climb this weekend to find out!