Qualifying for the 88th running of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb has been completed and the results are in. But the big question remains: Can anyone, most specifically Nobuhiro "Monster" Tajima, Rhys Millen or Paul Dallenbach, finally produce the goods to crack the elusive 10 minute barrier over the span of the 12.42-mile, 156 turn paved and dirt mountain road?
Tajima, the current record holder with a 10:01.41 set in 2007 and the defending Unlimited class champion, seems to be in the best position, clocking a 4:28.469 for the bottom section of the course during qualifying today (the full hill climb is not used for qualifying). Tajima's all-wheel-drive Monster Sport Suzuki SX4 Hill Climb Special, which is powered by a 910-bhp twin-turbo 3.1-liter V-6, seems to be on fine form.
Millen clocked the second-fastest time of the day, a 4:42.342, well off Tajima's pace. Millen said the team was set back a bit during yesterday's practice sessions due to chasing a problem with his paddle-shift gearbox, leaving them precious little time to sort out chassis setup. "We don't lack preparation," Millen said after qualifying. "We lack time." Millen and his crew built his RMR Hyundai Genesis PM580 from scratch in just four months, and only had a few days of testing—all on pavement—prior to setting out for Colorado from his shop in California. As such, Millen has been struggling with front-end grip on the dirt sections (but the car is devastatingly quick on the pavement), and because of that he said: "Tomorrow we're going to find a local dirt track." Saturday is an off day for the Pikes Peak racers, race day reserved for Sunday.
Not to be left out of the Battle to Break 10 Minutes is Pikes Peak veteran Paul Dallenbach, who switched to the Unlimited class this year from Open Wheel. Dallenbach is a 6-time Open Wheel Pikes Peak champ and 3-time overall winner. Dallenbach posted a qualifying time of 4:49.158 in his more traditional Pikes Peak open-wheel Chevy-powered racer.
Also posting impressive times were Jimmy Keeney in the Open Wheel class with a 4:45.264 and Jeff Zwart in a rear-drive Porsche 911 with a 5:01.642 run to head both the Time Attack 2WD and 4WD classes.
So, can Millen "slay the Monster," as he and his Red Bull-backed team have been bragging, and put the Pikes Peak record back in the Millen name (Millen's father, Rod, set the previous record of 10:04.06 in 1994 prior to Tajima breaking it in 2007)? Can anyone break the 10-minute barrier? And how much of a factor will weather play in the outcome, as truly anything can happen at 14,000- feet? We'll find out on Sunday.