Watching GoPro videos online really gets the adrenaline flowing, especially when the clips feature the exploits of Nobuhiro “Monster” Tajima and Sebastien Loeb. These record setting drivers have plenty of accolades to their credit, but in Colorado, the only one that really counts is the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.
Text by Richard Fong // Photos by Larry Chen
The 2014 Broadmoor Pikes Peak International Hill Climb marked the 92nd running of the “Race to the Clouds.” Just last year, Sebastien Loeb attacked the 12.42-mile course, smashing the standing record and raising the standards with a 8:13.87 elapsed time, an unfathomable pace for the now fully-paved course. With 156 turns and over 4,700 feet of elevation change, the mountain still challenges the world’s best and most courageous to take on the clock and the mountain for glory.
No Loeb, no Rhys Millen, No Rod Millen. Where were these big guns? No doubt, Peugeot brought Loeb and their LeMans-based 208 T16 Pikes Peak racecar last year to conquer the mountain and set a practically unbreakable record. That’s what they accomplished. They established a standard that set them apart by quite a margin, so they probably won’t be back again for some time. The Millens, who’ve maintained a longstanding relationship with this mountain, did not compete this year. In 2013, Rhys was racing against Romain Dumas for second, as Loeb’s time was just untouchable. Rhys smashed his own previous record with a 9:02.192 e.t. behind the wheel of the Redbull/Hyundai/RMR PM580-T and took second place, while Dumas suffered a gearbox failure that prevented him from attempting to compete.
For many years Monster Tajima has competed at Pikes Peak, setting the record and winning the last event with a mixed racing surface back in 2011. He shifted his focus to electric vehicles in 2012 and finished fifth overall in 2013, setting the electric vehicle record with a 9:46.001. This year he faced transponder issues, not receiving an official time initially. He was given a time of 9:46 and took third place at the awards ceremony. The front-runners in the Electric Modified class, Greg Tracy and Hiroshi Masuoka, both piloted Mitsubishi MiEV Evolution III electric racecars. These third generation machines were 300 pounds lighter and more powerful than their predecessors, and the advantage showed in the elapsed times. With 9:08.188 and 9.12.204 e.t.s respectively, the duo took first and second in the Modified Electric class and second and third overall at the event. Not only did they come within striking distance of the overall win, they surpassed the standing electric vehicle record by over 34 seconds.
Dumas, now a Porsche LMP1 factory driver, returned to the mountain again behind the wheel of a 2013 Norma M20 RD Limited. This French racecar draws on LeMans and a hill climb heritage that dates back to 1984. Dumas dominated the competition with a best e.t. of 9:05.801, coming within four seconds of Rhys’ 2013 e.t. He captured both the Unlimited class win and the overall best time for the event.
Import Crossover Competitors
While the Millens have represented a variety of racing disciplines, import and sport compact icons from the road racing and drifting scene have shown an interest in this historic hill climb as of late. Formula Drift drivers Ken Gushi and Toshiki Yoshioka improved their times and finishing positions. Gushi, driving his repurposed FR-S drift car, finished seventeenth overall and third in the Time Attack class. Yoshioka also stepped up, finishing nineteenth overall and fourth in the class. Both drivers ran more than thirty seconds quicker than last year, and went from 65th and 71st place into the teens, respectively. This is due in part to the weather, as they faced rain and wind last year. Time attack and circuit driver, Robert Walker, returned to the mountain behind the wheel of Evasive’s FR-S. He also improved on his 2013 time by 21 seconds and finished three places higher overall.
It’s not uncommon for the weather on the mountain to make or break a competitor’s performance. Mother Nature smiled on Loeb last year, presenting largely consistent weather patterns, while other competitors fell victim to unexpected precipitation and winds. This year, the skies were partly cloudy to sunny, without a drop of moisture on the asphalt. But there were gusts of wind that blew dirt onto portions of the road, making some sections a bit treacherous.
A Pretty Good Year
Without the handicap of typically adverse and unpredictable Pikes Peak weather conditions, many competitors left the mountain with a sense of accomplishment. While no one came close to breaking Loeb’s world record set last year, many enjoyed significant improvements, personal bests, higher standings and even some podiums. As international attention continues to focus on this race, expect more visiting teams from across the US and beyond to take a shot at the Peak.