This year's Pikes Peak International Hill Climb was bound to be the fastest ever in its 90-year history as environmental concerns had led to the paving of the road up to the 14,110-foot summit for the first time. Sure enough, records fell throughout the day, with champion Rhys Millen besting last year's fastest time with a 9 minute, 46.164 second run, a victory of two-hundredths of a second over the next runner. But the day was punctuated by two serious crashes that show just how dangerous the new Pikes Peak can be.
The Pikes Peak climb ranks among the world's most challenging race events, running a 12-mile course with 153 turns whose altitude changes saps power from engines and drivers. Unlike other races, there's few limits on what can be raced, with everything from motorcycles with sidecars to custom-built 1,000-hp race cars tackling the course every year.
Running a 700-hp turbocharged Hyundai Genesis coupe, Millen bested a field of gas and electric-powered competitors on Sunday, barely ahead of French driver and 24 Hours of Le Mans champion Romain Dumas in his Porsche 911. Last year's champion Nobuhiro "Monster" Tajima, who had vowed to win the race in his custom-built electric car, saw his day end early after the car caught fire early in his run. Instead, the new electric record went to Fumio Nutahara in a Toyota-built race car, which shaved two minutes off the previous best time for an EV and placed sixth overall with a 10:15.380 run.
With 170 entries, crashes are inevitable, and this year Pikes Peak organizers tightened the safety rules anticipating the higher speeds on paved areas. Paul Dallenbach, one of the drivers favored to win the race, tested the limits of those precautions when the throttle stuck on his 1,400-hp unlimited-class race car, sending him flying into the trees at 130 mph. Dallenbach was not seriously injured, saying on Twitter later that there was "nothing left of the car. Took a flight 4 life ride but today was not my day to go. I am very sore."
Another driver, Jeremy Foley, and his co-driver Yuri Kouznetsov also suffered only minor injuries after their Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX went off the road at Devil's Playground, rolling 10 times before coming to a stop on the mountainside. Foley and Dallenbach's crashes also highlight the inherent dangers of Pikes Peak -- there are no fences to catch a wayward car, and spectators can stand as close to the road as they can get. Expect all of these drivers to make another run at the mountaintop next year.
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