It's 5:30 a.m. as temperatures drop to a bone-chilling 40 degrees F on top of the Rocky Mountains, located deep inside Colorado Springs, CO. The early morning wake-up call marks the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb's (PPIHC) official race day for all Time Attack and Unlimited Class competitors.
Among just a few of the competitors looking to cast their names into the record books were Sebastien Loeb in his 1,900-pound, 875hp twin-turbocharged 208 T17 Peugeot; 2012-defending PPHIC Time Attack Division Champion Rhys Millen, who conquered the climb with a time of 9:46.164 and returned in an all-new Unlimited Class Rhys Millen Racing (RMR) Hyundai-powered PM580-T tarmac tube-frame race car; first-time competitor Rob Walker in the 400hp-plus Evasive Motorsports HKS-supercharged FR-S; Takeshi Aizawa, piloting the turbocharged Greddy Scion tC; Andrew Comrie-Picard in a tarmac-converted Scion Rally xD; and Frenchman Jean-Philippe Dayraut in the "No Limit" Unlimited Class Mini Cooper machine, powered by a 850hp (VR38DETT) GT-R engine. Paul Dallenbach made his triumphant return, this time to pilot Millen's '12 record-holding Hyundai Genesis Time Attack coupe following last year's near death experience in his 1,400hp Banks Sidewinder twin-turbo machine. Stacked with formidable cars, it was no surprise that this year's Pikes Peak International Hill Climb was one of the most competitive in years.
The sound of engines roaring to life echoed through the mountain air. An international field of 157 competitors, 70 automobiles and 87 motorcycles, prepared to charge the 12.42-mile, fully paved course with 156 turns that begins at 9,390 feet and ends at the 14,110-foot summit of the Peak. Spectators, wearing jackets and scarves, huddled together along the mountainside in a meager attempt to fend off the cold; they caught glimpses of competitors blasting through the northwest side of Pikes Peak, known as Devil's Playground. Demonic as it sounds, this stretch of the mountain gets its name from the way lightning jumps from rock to rock along this formation. Some, however, speculate that this electrical activity could only be caused by the devil himself.
PPIHC competitors believe the name comes from a more sinister origin. Over its 90-year history, both past and present PPIHC competitors refer to the steep grade toward the summit finish line as the most feared portion of the course. With an altitude at just over 14,000 feet, bright and sunny road conditions can, and often do, degrade into a storm of lightning, snow, hail, and thick blankets of fog in an instant. Combine that with the narrow two-lane highway road with hillsides of mountain rocks on one side and a 2,000-foot "bottomless pit" drop off just adjacent, and you can hopefully see why the mountain is seen as such a challenge.
The brutal stretch of mountain road has caused a number of drivers and riders to tumble down the mountainside, including rookie competitor Jeremy Foley last year in a Mitsubishi Evo VIII. Foley lost control of the car and violently tumbled down the mountainside. It was a horrendous crash that was still fresh on everyone's mind as this year's competing group went into preparing for the 91st running of the second-oldest race in America.
This year's most anticipated driver and team in the Unlimited Division was international driver and nine-time World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb of France, who teamed up with Peugeot. The triumphant return of Peugeot marked the first time since Ari Vatanen and Robby Unser won back-to-back Open Rally titles in 1988 and 1989. The 208 T17 Peugeot effortlessly charged up the mountain in a record time of 8:13.878 seconds. Not only did Loeb manage to set a new record, but he also reset last year's record by an astounding 1 minute and 33 seconds to become the founder and sole member of the "Eight-Minute Club". Here's an interesting fact on Loeb's record-breaking run: Coming out of the first turn, the 208 T17 was clocked at 97 mph. His competitor, and Second Place winner Millen, was speed radar gunned at 86 mph—a difference of 11 mph. Following the race, Gordon Ting, team principal of the Team Scion xA rally car, offered his congratulations to Loeb in the pits. Loeb simply turned toward Gordon, gleamed a sly smile, and replied, "All I do is win". This remark would be considered arrogant by any other competitor, but was seemingly appropriate by this badass who came, raced, and conquered at this year's PPIHC.