Pontiac will attach the legendary Pikes Peak Hill Climb Course at the 85th running of the Hill Climb event on July 26th. The weapon of its choice is the Red Bull Solstice GXP with a 550 hp turbocharged Ecotec four. Its driver is Rhys Millen. Millen, who is perhaps best known recently for his participation in the Formula Drift series, is also a fifteen year veteran of “The Race to the Clouds” at Pikes Peak.
The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is an incredibly demanding and unique event. The elevation starts at 9,400 feet and goes up to 14,110 feet. Not only does this make it the highest auto race in the world, but it affects the tuning of the cars – as the air thins dramatically during the race to the summit.
Then there’s the course: 12.4 miles of with 156 turns, most with virtually no room for error. Error on this course doesn’t mean a sand trap. It means a drop of several thousand feet. One corner in particular demands attention: the aptly named “Bottomless Pit.” Fall off the road there and you fall 6,000 feet.
Though the course was once entirely dirt, it is now 80% paved.
Millen estimates horsepower losses at three percent for every 1,000 feet of elevation. Consequently, the team does preliminary testing in Leadville, Colorado, which has an elevation of 9,927 feet.
Though the Hill Climb does have a $50,000 prize money purse, the primary benefit to winning is the glory. The first Hill Climb was held in 1916. The race, which has multiple classes for different types of cars and motorcycles and is now FIA sanctioned, has challenged some of the best drivers in history, with past winners including Mario Andretti, Bobby Under, and Al Unser, Sr. Robby Unser holds the open wheel class record, with a run of 10:05.85.
But the overall record was set by another Millen: in 1994, Rod Millen made the run from bottom to top in 10:04.06.