Records tumble at Pikes Peak, Rhys Millen sets new mountain mark
Following a month's delay caused by wildfires that ravaged the Colorado Springs area, the 90th running of the Pikes Peak hillclimb finally went off on Sunday. As expected, the first-ever "Race to the Clouds" held on a fully paved version of the 12.42-mile/156-turn course yielded several quickest-ever runs highlighted by the new absolute mark of 9 minutes 46.164 seconds set by Rhys Millen in his Rhys Millen Racing Hyundai Genesis Coupe. That effort bettered the existing 9:51.278 best set in 2011 by Nobuhiko "Monster" Tajima in an Unlimited Category Suzuki SX4.
Millen, a veteran of many Pikes Peak campaigns, used a modified version of the same 2WD Time Attack Class car that he drove to a class record in 2009 and that established a new category mark in 2011 in the hands of his father, rally champ Rod Millen. In what proved to be a brilliantly competitive race to reach the finish line at 14,110 feet, Millen narrowly edged out endurance-racing ace and 2010 Le Mans winner Romain Dumas by a scant 0.017 second. Dumas, who was making his initial appearance in the event, turned in that sparkling effort in his specially-prepped Open Class Haribo Porsche 911 GT3-RS that also became the first car in its category to ever complete the run in less than 10 minutes.
The glory wasn't just confined to competitors on four wheels. Carlin Dunne turned in the third best overall time of 9:52.819 to become the first motorcycle rider to break the 10-minute barrier astride a Ducati Multistrada 1200 S prepared by Spider Grips Racing. His effort gave Ducati its third consecutive Pikes Peak 1205 Motorcycle Class win, and was nearly a minute and 20 seconds below his previous mark. Fourth fastest up the historic hill was Dunne's teammate, Greg Tracy. Also on a Ducati Multistrada 1200 S, Tracy recorded a 9:58.262 time and ended up being the only other competitor to complete the course in less than 10 minutes.
Best of the Unlimited runners was another Pikes Peak veteran, David Donner, who put his 2012 Palatov D4PPS racer in fifth spot overall with a 10:04.652 clocking while the clean, green forces of the Electric Category were championed by Japanese rally ace Fumio Nutahara in a Toyota Motorsport GmbH TMG EV P002 racer that sped to sixth overall and a new class mark with a 10:15.380 time -- some two minutes under the existing EV record.
Life was not so sweet for several other high-profile competitors that had their great expectations summarily derailed by early exits. Unlimited Category favorites Paul Dallenbach and Jean Phillipe Dayraut failed to finish even the first segment with Dallenbach suffering a serious crash caused by a stuck throttle on his 1,400 horsepower custom Lola. Pikes Peak icon Monster Tajima -- who had switched over to a specially prepped Electric racer for 2102 -- also got zapped, retiring his Monster Sport E Runner barely a mile after the start as the result of an electrical fire. The always-unpredictable Pikes Peak weather played a role in this year's event as well, as a mix of snow, rain and icy conditions near the summit saw officials shorten the measured distance for three classes of competitors who ran later in the day due to safety considerations.