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Pikes Peak International Hill Climb 2014 - Japanese Car Highlight

Race to the clouds in photos, from an SS perspective

Brad Lord
Aug 28, 2014
Photographer: Alastair Richie
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Pikes Peak International Hill Climb Details:

  • 92nd annual Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in Colorado
  • Romain Dumas ascends mountain in 9:05.801-seconds driving a Norma M20 RD Limited race car
  • Michael Skeen receives ‘Rookie of the Year’ award in Hawk Performance’s Nissan GT-R
  • Evasive Motorsports shaves 22-seconds from last year’s time in its FR-S

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On paper it seems like a straightforward proposition: an all-tarmac mountainside single car sprint, 12.42-miles in length, 156 corners deep. In reality though it’s far from it. The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is not only America’s second oldest motorsport event; it’s one of the toughest competitions on the planet. Inclement weather, sheer drops to rocky outcrops and thin air through the ascent from 9,390ft to 14,115ft summit, which weakens engine power and leaves drivers short of breath. And with only one single run to pull it all together, just making it to the top of the mountain is an achievement in itself.

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Despite the hill climb event having evolved from an all-dirt affair where unrestricted Group B rally cars once ruled the undulating road, there remains nothing else quite like Pikes Peak. It’s why so many challengers from the US and abroad make the mid-summer pilgrimage to Colorado Springs every year.

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The 2013 ‘Race to the Clouds’ went down in the history books as one of the greatest ever – French automaker Peugeot with nine-time World Rally Champion Sébastien Loeb shattering the previously held course record with an 8:13.878 run in a purpose-built, 875hp weapon of hill climb destruction – the 208 T16 Pikes Peak. Some say that record may never be broken, but for the 130 starters who signed up for the 92nd running of the event on the last weekend of June it was of little consequence. Most were there to conquer the mountain.

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After a week of early morning, part-course practice sessions, race day dawned clear. By the time it was all over, French driver Romain Dumas – a previous winner at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Spa, Nürburgring, and the 12 Hours of Sebring 2012 Rookie of the Year – emerged victorious. He was fastest on two of the four sectors and made his ascent to the summit in 9:05.801 – well shy of Loeb’s record and more than three and a half seconds off Rhys Millen’s 2013 Unlimited class pace, but still an impressive time in its own right. His weapon of choice? A Norma M20 RD Limited – a carbon-fiber prototype race car that weighs just 1345lbs and is powered a Honda Performance Development (HPD)-built, turbocharged K20A engine built to deliver a solid 450hp. The resulting power-to-weight ratio might not quite be as crazy as that of the 208 T16 (1hp per kilogram), but it’s not exactly short on real world performance either, as Dumas showed.

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That said though, while there might have been a 50-something second margin between first and second overall in last year’s race, things were tighter at the Pikes Peak summit this time around. In fact, when it was all said and done only a few fleeting seconds separated Dumas from the next quickest up the hill – American driver/rider/stuntman Greg Tracy. But Tracy wasn’t behind the wheel of feral, boost-stuffed and flame-spitting monster like you might imagine he would – he conquered the mountain in 9:08.188 from within the eerily-silent cockpit of a MiEV Evolution III – Mitsubishi’s all-electric prototype race car.

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It’s not the first time the MiEV has raced at Pikes Peak, but its third evolution is proof of just how quickly electric vehicle technology is progressing. The MiEV Evolution III not only had more power than before – a combined 603hp from its four electric engines all told – but response and battery efficiency was greatly improved this year, too. Add to that a lighter tube-frame chassis, a revised carbon-fiber cowl and wind-tunnel optimized aero, wider tires at all corners and a reprogrammed S-AWC integrated vehicle dynamics control system for improved handling, it’s not hard to see why Tracy set a new electric record in the process of attaining his overall podium finish.

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Regardless of whether Loeb’s record ever falls, it’s the competition amongst the ranks that’s destined to keep this event alive. That’s something evident in all the classes, including the hotly-contested Time Attack 1 for tuner cars. Here the winning margin was just 1.173 seconds – French driver Vincent Beltoise in a Romain Dumas Rallye Team-entered 2009 Porsche 911 GT3 RS just ousting Pikes Peak stalwart Jeff Zwart and his 700hp BBI Autosport-prepared Porsche 911 GT3 Cup Turbo who experienced an intermittent misfire that sealed his fate when it mattered. Zwart’s 10:01.917 – his personal best – could have so easily been a nine-minute run. That’s Pikes Peak though. And like the majority of other racers who just can’t stay away, he’ll be back to do it all over again next year.

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Godzilla Monsters the Mountain

Michael Skeen / Hawk Performance Nissan GT-R – 9:55.471

To win a major class at Pikes Peak is one thing, but to do it in your rookie year, while breaking the single digit barrier and taking sixth place overall in the process – well, that’s unheard of. Yet, it’s exactly what Michael Skeen, PPIHC’s 2014 ‘Rookie of the Year’ recipient, did behind the wheel of Hawk Performance’s ex-Pirelli World Challenge Series Nissan GT-R this year. Having retired from active race duty at the end of the 2013 season, upgrading the CRP-built R35 for the hill climb was an easy decision for owner and driver to make. The car was already halfway to Open Class specification – its World Challenge GT-class modifications extending to the removal of the front diff and driveshafts, and the repositioning of the VR38DETT both lower and further back in the engine bay. It lacked the aero of a serious Pikes Peak contender, but that was duly addressed, and in a BIG way.

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“Hawk were just interested in building the car and coming out and seeing what the event is all about,” says Skeen.” We thought this would be a recon year, but our performance has been pretty good. The motor itself is pretty stock with just some small upgrades to the turbos, so the power level is only around 100hp more than factory. There’s a lot of improvement we can do there so hopefully we can come back and do it even stronger in the future. Pikes Peaks is awesome!”

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The Unlimited FR-S

Robert Walker / Evasive Motorsports Scion FR-S – 10:37.791

In 2013 Evasive Motorsports took its Scion FR-S to Pikes Peak with driver Robert ‘MaxRev’ Walker and recorded a 10:59.744 on race day. Despite being bumped to the Unlimited class on an aero technicality, a return to Colorado Springs was never in question, but this time around the team turned up with an even tougher package.

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Although power output remained similar, the HKS supercharged FA20 was rebuilt with a 2.1-liter stroker kit and cams, along with a MoTeC M150 giving the firing orders. Then a Hewland five-speed transmission was added, the aero was revised, stickier tires were fitted and some weight was cut out of the car – all in the name of achieving a quicker time up the mountain. Once again Evasive found themselves relegated to the Unlimited ranks, but it was of little consequence to the team as time was all they had on their minds. An impressive 22 seconds was chopped out of last year’s ascent – the 10:37.791 achieved placing them 4th in class and 25th outright. That fact’s even more impressive when you understand the ethos behind the #888 build:

“Technically this is a tuner car,” says Walker. “It’s still unibody, still uses the factory engine as a base, and apart from our custom aero has mostly been built with bolt-on parts.”

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Yoshioka Verse the Peak

Toshiki Yoshioka / GTNet x Yoshioka Racing Subaru BRZ – 10:34.564

Toshiki Yoshioka might be better known for his Hachiroku drifting antics, but he’s been coming to the mountain since 2011 when Pikes Peak Highway was still partially dirt. “When I was young I used to watch Rod Millen compete in the hill climb in his Toyotas on TV. And I really like it. I started racing motorcycles in Japan and then cars when I was 19, and then started drifting. But when I came to the U.S. I remembered Pikes Peak and decided to come and drive it.”

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In better conditions than 2013, he placed fourth in the Time Attack 1 class and 20th outright this year after achieving a 10:34.564 run in his Tomei EJ25-powered BRZ. Not that he probably would have minded a wet road. “Last year we had a tough situation when I had rain and hail on my run. It caused the windshield to fog up, so of course I had to drive sideways looking out the side window!”

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Born to Climb

Ken Gushi / GReddy Racing x Hankook Scion FR-S Ver 1.5 – 10.30.188

Formula D pro Ken Gushi tells us he was destined to compete in the world’s most famous hill climb. “My father always had a huge dream to come to the US and do Pikes Peak. He was always into rally, but when he finally had the chance to do the event in 2007 in a Subaru Impreza, he asked me to drive.”

Since then Gushi has returned to Pikes Peak a few times, most recently last year behind the wheel of a Lexus IS F CCS-R. This year he stepped back into his original GReddy Racing EJ25-powered Scion FR-S drift car, which aside from a brake and tire swap, was essentially still in its 500hp drifting specification.

Gushi headed straight to Colorado Springs from the New Jersey stop on the Formula D calendar, and straight into problems with the car – an emergency engine swap losing the team valuable practice time on the lead up to the main Pikes Peak hill climb event. Not that it mattered when he crossed the finish line on race day in 10.30.188 having drifted many of the hairpins – his preferred method to keep the car in boost. Third place in Time Attack, one behind the Porsches of Beltoise and Zwart and 18th outright was a sweet reward for the team’s hard work.


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By Brad Lord
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