Kings of the hill

From monster SUVs to all-electric supercars, big name manufacturers are scrambling to compete at this year’s Pikes Peak

Although Pikes Peak is no longer topped with gravel, the challenge for 2018 is set to be as intense as ever. Double Pikes Peak winner Rhys Millen will use a tank of medical-grade oxygen when he attempts to break the SUV record in Bentley’s Bentayga later this month. “Quite a lot of competitors have gone there with high blood pressure issues or altitude sickness, fainted and crashed because of the lack of oxygen,” he said earlier this year.

Bentley knows what’s at stake, and the manufacturer has gone all-out to beat the existing record held by the Range Rover Sport, which completed the course in 12min 35.61sec. That was five years ago, however, and Bentley, with its lime-green W12 contender, should be confident of breaking the record – unless the competing Acura RDX pulls off a major upset. Both feature in the ‘exhibition class’, which the organiser says exists to ‘demonstrate advancements in the practical application of motor sport technology.’

There will be a little bit less breathing room for Romain Dumas, who will be looking to break the electric record of 8min 57.118sec in Volkswagen’s new IDR.

In 2016 Millen set the existing record in a Drive eOPP100, which boasts 1190kW of power (nearly 1600bhp) in a package weighing 1200kg. Contrast that to Volkswagen’s claimed output of 680bhp/507kW and Dumas’s job seems even harder. Then again, VW claims the car, which weighs 1100kg including Dumas, will hit 60mph in just 2.25sec.

The manufacturer will launch its range of ID electric road cars next year and is using the hillclimb to prove its battery tech. “Customers have always benefited from the findings made in motor sport,” said VW’s development head Frank Welsch, adding that the assault on Pikes Peak was the real “acid test” of the technology.

The only other electric car present will be a 2018 Nissan Leaf with Japanese rally veteran Fumio Nutahara at the helm. Expect the Leaf to be modified in some way, as it’s competing in the ‘time attack’ class for production-based vehicles. He’s going up against Vanina Ickx’s Belgian supercar, the Gillet Vertigo, a 1986 Lancia Delta S4, numerous Subaru Imprezas and the McLaren 12C of former NASCAR driver Clint Vahsholtz, who has been competing at Pikes Peak since 1992. Paul Dallenbach’s class record of 9min 46.001sec has stood since 2013 and, in the right conditions, could be topped.

Dallenbach is a veteran of the mountain having won on the dirt, mixed-surface and paved iterations of Pikes Peak, and this year will be his 25th entry. The Dallenbach Special, which you may have seen challenge for the Goodwood Festival of Speed hillclimb record, is something of a family heirloom as his brother Wally Dallenbach Jr and Wally’s son, Wyatt, have both scored podiums in it (to go with Paul’s two outright wins). With dominant open-wheel driver and 2017 winner Vahsholtz having moved to ‘time attack’ competition, Dallenbach P stands a chance of beating last year’s record of 9min 35.747sec, held by Vahsholtz. Greg Tracy, six-time motorcycle champion and 2014 electric record holder, might have something to say about that. He’ll compete in the open class in a 2018 Sierra Summit.

The ‘open class’ follows the same regulation as the ‘time attack’ class, but major engine modifications can be made to the production vehicles entered. Peter Cunningham, who set the 2017 ‘open class’ record in his Acura TLX GT (Honda Accord) with a blistering time of 9min 33.797sec, is back again. Also in an Acura TLX will be Nick Robinson, a senior automotive engineer at Honda, who won the class in 2016. Pitted against them will be sports car veteran and journalist Randy Pobst, driving a 2018 Ford Mustang GT. The race to the clouds is very much on.