Sixty-one year old motorsport legend Nobuhiro 'Monster' Tajima, almost certainly the oldest world class athlete competing in any sport today, won his sixth consecutive Pikes Peak International Hill Climb on Sunday, at the same time as breaking the long standing 10 minute barrier for the course which rises 1.5 kilometers from start to oxygen-starved finish. Nissan's electric LEAF established a new electric car record for the course and Ducati's "four bikes in 1" Multistrada defended its 2010 win with a new record too.
Monster's winning time of 9 minutes, 51.278 seconds came despite major mechanical problems in his run up the mountain when a blown radiator and a sudden loss of power steering in the final stages could easily have robbed him of the title, perhaps even his life given the dramatic drop-offs just feet from the edge of the circuit.
As is customary, Tajima drove a vehicle labelled as a Suzuki SX4 and sponsored by his native Japan's Suzuki corporation. The vehicle might have a shape in there that resembles a Suzuki SX4 shape, but in almost every respect, the car shares very little with the road car it purportedly is derived from. Similarly, the beast's twin turbocharged Suzuki V6 has been tweaked to produce a remarkable 680 kW of power and 890 Nm of torque.
While the fabled ten minute mark has finally been broken, there are difficulties in comparing Tajima's time with those from previous events. The 19.9 kilometer-long course may still have the same 156 turns and begin at an altitude of 2860 meters and finish at an altitude of 4300 metres, but each year the course has been upgraded slightly by the local Colorado Springs council.
Accordingly, over the last decade, the surface of the hillclimb has been changed from almost entirely gravel to almost entirely asphalt. Currently, less than a quarter of the event is run on unpaved road and the remaining three miles will be paved prior to next year's event.
Hence although Tajima's record now stands at eleven titles with the last six in a row, the 61 year-old will never wrest the mantle of the best drive up the dangerous mountain from Kiwi Rod Millen who in 1994 clocked a time of 10:04.06 on a surface that was at the time, almost entirely unpaved.
How close Millen must have gone to the edge of impossibility 15 years ago can only guessed at, but most engine technologies have advanced dramatically in the same time frame.
Interestingly, like Tajima, Millen still competes and in this year's event he took out the two-wheel-drive production class in a Hyundai Genesis Coupe. Millen's son Rhys is now one of the premier drivers in North America with wins in the 2005 Formula Drift championship and the 2008 Red Bull Drifting World Championship. Rhys finished second to Tajima in this year's open class with a time of 11:04.912 in his Hyundai-powered RMR PM580 purpose-built tube-framed race car.
Rhys Millen, the Formula Drift champion who returned to Colorado with his Hyundai Genesis PM580, which had its Pikes Peak debut last year, was expected to challenge the 10-minute mark as well, but he was hampered by brake issues and finished second over all, at 10:09.24.
In the motorcycle class, rookie Carlin Dunne set a new motorcycle record while giving Ducati's "4 bikes in 1" Multistrada its second win in a row.
The Pikes Peak circuit with its diversity of surfaces is claimed by Ducati to be a perfect place to utilize the Multistrada's computerized riding modes. Dunne is claimed to have used the Multistrada's 150hp "Sport" mode in the paved sections while changing to 100hp "Enduro" mode for the dirt sections of the course. The on-the-fly mode changes throughout the race, enable the auto changing of the settings on the Multistrada's Electronic Suspension, Traction Control, and Bosch-Brembo ABS in conjunction with the engine's ride-by-wire throttle management.
Carlin Dunne is the proprietor of Ducati Santa Barbara in California, and the bike he rode was the store's showroom demo bike - he certainly enhanced the value of the bike albeit while he put a few extra clicks on the odometer.
Dunne qualified on pole for the race and his time of 11:11.32 is a new course record for motorcycles, though still a long way down on the outright record set by Tajima. Interestingly, the three fastest motorcycle times of the event were all set on Italian motorcycles - behind the Ducati Multistrada were the Aprilia SXV of Stuart Sinclair (11:27.396) and the TM 660 SMX of Gary Trachy (11:32.004).
The Multistrada 1200 race will be commemorated by a Ducati Multistrada 1200 S Pikes Peak Special Edition, a Multistrada 1200 S painted and accessorized to match the winning Spider Grips team bike.
This year was the first Pikes Peak to include an Electric Production Class, and the Nissan LEAF made history as the first winners of the category, finishing its run in a time of 14 minutes 33. The LEAF was stock except for safety modifications and larger wheels and tires.
Interestingly, because the Pikes Peak course rises from 9,390 feet to 14,110 foot, the thin at the summit robs internal combustion engines of up to 30% of their power but because electric motors are not reliant on the amount of oxygen in the air, they produce the same amount of power throughout the ascent.
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