Formula D champion Rhys Millen will return for his 15th run at the annual "Race to the Clouds" hosted at the Pikes Peak mountain circuit. This year, he will be using his own drifting car: the Red Bull Racing Pontiac Solstice.
Pikes Peak is the worlds highest race, located in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. The hill climb race starts at 9,400 feet, reaching the finish line 156 turns later at an altitude exceeding 14,100 feet... and all of this on a dirt road.
However, Rhys Millen is no stranger to the Pikes Peak hill climb. In his 14 attempts, he earned six victories and set two records. Last time he attended the race was in 2004 with a Pontiac GTO. Millen says that a lot of what is used in drifting is also used to win races at the hill climb, which is why he has been so successful in his drifting career ever since Pontiac joined Formula D and D1GP. He further explains that this event is merely bringing drifting back to its roots where it all began: the mountains.
When asked what modifications his car will require to adapt to the dirt surface, Millen was concise: the Red Bull racing team will maintain the same suspension settings used for drifting. Millen adds that the many techniques used in drifting are also used for best cornering in the dirt mountain roads. So any modifications to the suspension settings of the car will be maintained at a minimum.
However, one big question mark on the mind of many mechanics is the turbocharged ecotech motor that the Solstice is using. Racing in such hill altitudes and climbing is a challenge because of the conditions quickly change. The higher you climb there less air there is, therefore the motor will increasingly run richer as it climbs higher. The mechanics that the motor is expected to lose over 30% of it’s power during the hill climb in its current setting. They will have to remap the motor in order to maintain an efficient level of linear power to allow Millen to get the job done.
Aerodynamics will also have to be slightly changed to adapt to the higher grounds. To achieve the same level of down force they were achieving at sea level, the wing and canards will have to be considerably angled. Since there is less air to generate the down force, more angle is needed to retain the desired down force to sustain the handling characteristics of the car.
The race is set for July 21st, and among many goals, Rhys notes a personal one: to beat the record set by his father, Rod Millen, back in 1994 driving an all-wheel-drive 850hp Toyota Celica Turbo. Rod completed the 12.4 mile climb in 10 minutes and 4 seconds. It will be a great challenge for Rhys with his 550hp rear-wheel-drive Solstice, but he is determined to surpass that record.