These are really, insanely awesome.
Footage from the cockpit of most race cars is dramatic. But seeing the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb raced from the perspective of the drivers? That's next level craziness. Cracking 10 minutes, as every top-ten finisher in the history of the race has now done, means averaging—averaging— 74mph on a course with 13 turns per mile. Also, doing it on a road where there are very few guardrails and a strong likelihood of launching into oblivion is that much more astonishing. The margin for error at these speeds is zero, which makes watching the pros try all the more riveting. Here are the top 10 fastest runs at Pikes Peak, shot firsthand.
Nine-time WRC world champion Sebastien Loeb set an astonishing time of 8:13.878 in 2013, and it may be a very long time before anyone gets close. It helped that he ran an 875hp V-6 Peugeot and that the car borrowed heavily from both Peugeot's Le Mans and WRC programs. There are no rules—save for governing safety—in the Unlimited class, and that allowed Peugeot to chase extraordinary levels of downforce that suctioned the car to the pavement.
A far second to Loeb, Rhys Millen's 2nd place of 9:02.192 bested his own top time by more than 44 seconds. His ride: A Crawford Performance Engineering Daytona Prototype chassis, nominally of a Hyundai Genesis. Power came from a turbocharged, 4.1-liter production V-6 (massaged from 3.8 liters) and capable of 800hp. The car was RWD with a six-speed sequential gearbox.
In this case, there isn't a lot separating 2nd and 3rd. In 2014 Le Mans driver Romain Dumas set a first-place time of 9:05.80, racing his Norma M20 RD. Going with the lighter-is-better motto, Dumas's car produced "only" 450hp from a four-cylinder Honda power plant—but that car only weighed 1,344 lbs.
Rhys Millen set the mark very high for an electric car with his time of 9:07.22, within five seconds of his own best on the mountain in an internal-combustion machine—and he'll be back again this year running electric, not gas. Millen's single-seat PP03 may yet again produce the most torque of any car— 1,593 lb-ft —and it runs a single gear, so there's zero worry over shifting. At this point, the biggest challenge is reducing battery weight but still having just enough juice to run flat out.
Greg Tracy's four-motor electric Mitsubishi produced 1,400 lb-ft of torque, nearly as much as Millen's PP03. And Tracy's time of 9:08.18 was nearly fleet enough to catch the slightly faster Dumas; again, it shows how quickly electric is gaining on internal combustion. Tracy's car had active yaw control and stability control, and as with other electrics, there was zero need for gears, so all Tracy had to do was manipulate throttle, brakes and the tiller.
In 2014 Hiroshi Masuoka, a teammate of Greg Tracy and ex-two-time winner of the Paris Dakar, came in just behind the former at 9:12.20, but well over a full minute faster than his 2013 time of 10:21.80. Mitsubishi's i-MIEV Evolution III won't be entered in the 2016 race, unfortunately.
Nobuhiro Tajima's E‐RUNNER Concept 1 is another electric beast, producing 1,479 hp and 1,106 lb-ft of torque driven through a torque vectoring AWD transmission to keep the machine clawing at the tarmac. The resulting time of 9:32.40 was good enough for second place to Rhys Millen's PP03. Tajima's switch to electric, like many of the mountain's veteran drivers, comes after a long battle with the Peak; 2016 will see his 28th attempt.
Watching this video shows you the sudden disadvantage of a gearbox. Paul Dallenbach was beat by Nobuhiro Tajima by roughly four seconds, even though Tajima had several instances of power loss. Still, whenever Dallenbach had to shift he lost seconds. Not that Dallenbach's 9:36.49 is shabby. He bested the entire open-wheel class and set a new record for the category.
This is supposedly a Mini Countryman. It's not. Underneath that skin is a Nissan Skyline block and the engine is entirely worked over to produce 900hp funneled to AWD. Jean-Philippe Dayraut's last run at the summit (he decided the event was too dangerous after 2013) was good for a time of 9:42.74. Dayraut, a former Le Mans racer and World Touring Car pilot, believed the car—which is faster to 100mph than an F1 machine—was actually good enough to beat Sebastian Loeb's record time. But any driver attempting that would need to know the course better…to avoid dying.
Nobuhiro Tajima has competed on Pikes Peak 27 times (this year will mark 28). In 2014 his Monster Sport E‐RUNNER Pikes Peak was part of a trio of electric cars that cracked the 10-minute mark (9:43.90). This time in a 670hp car with twin electric motors mounted at the front and rear axles, both of which feature cooling radiators and of course that means AWD. Like every other electric vehicle at the pro level, there's no gearbox. Tajima beat his 2013 time of 9:46.53 (at that instant, the fastest electric car on the mountain in history), and in 2015 he bested his 2014 time by 11 seconds… This year he'll likely be even faster.