Pikes Peak was Nobuhiro 'Monster' Tajima's mountain again in the famous hillclimb's 2009 edition, and no assortment of top-notch rally and rallycross gear was going to take it away from him.
Tajima took his third conscutive Pikes Peak victory, though the conditions were just a bit too dry and dusty for him to break the magical ten-minute barrier; his winning time was 10:15.368 to take both the Unlimited class and the overall victory. His own record of 10:01.408, set two years ago, still stands.
'Monster', driving his Suzuki SX4 Pikes Peak Special, matched his 2007-record pace in the middle segment, from Glen Cove to the Sixteen Mile marker, but lost enough time in the bottom and top segments to put the record out of reach.
Pikes Peak veteran Paul Dallenbach had another strong run to win the open-wheel division and take second overall with a time of 10:52.097 in his 2WD Chevrolet-powered buggy, an impressive performance given that Dallenbach had to drive through a brief rain shower.
It was his's best performance on the climb to date -- even though the team had to replace the engine after Friday's practice -- but there is still a long way to beat the division record of 10:05.85, set by Robby Unser way back in 1994.
Still, Dallenbach was able to beat some big-budget teams from Europe, running high-end AWD hardware. Jimmy Keeney (K-Tech) and Spencer Steele (Coyote), also in the open-wheel division, were third and fourth overall, with times of 11:03.551 and 11:08.535.
Ford 's debut of its new Fiesta, run by the factory-supported Olsbergs MSE rallycross team, did not go quite to plan. The team was looking to emulate past WRC drivers like Michele Mouton and Ari vatanen and challenge for overall victory with the 800-hp, 2650-lb rallycross version of the Fiesta.
Marcus Gronholm, the 2000 and 2002 world rally champion, drove one of the cars, clocking a time of 11:28.963, good for fifth overall. At the Sixteen-Mile mark, Gronholm was still within 26 seconds of Tajima's time, and just 2.553 seconds behind Dallenbach, but turbocharger problems slowed him down on the final segment, and he finished some 1:14 behind the winner.
"The handling of the Fiesta is absolutely fantastic, and the BF Goodrich tires were great," Gronholm recalled. "Unfortunately we had a few small problems on the run today: I lost some power during the last few kilometres, but I was determined to finish. The Fiesta has huge potential, and could beat the 10-minute record. If I come back I know what we need to do to be fastest."
Gronholm's teammate and manager of the Olsberg MSE team, Andreas Eriksson, had less luck. After running off the road in practice, the Swede had two tires slip off their wheels at the two-mile mark, spinning his Fiesta into a tree and ending his race.
Mark Rennison, running a highly-tuned Ford RS200 -- an evolution of Ford's Group B rally car -- did manage to finish the climb, but was left with a time of 12:11.561, thirteenth overall.
Twelfth, beating Rennison, though, was Rhys Millen, son of rally legend Rod Millen. Millen impressed by setting a new record of 12:09.397 in the 2WD Time Attack division in a production-based 2010 Hyundai Genesis Coupe.
"During the 12.5-mile run I experienced slippery pavement with rain and hail at the start line, 95-degree weather in the middle and an abrasive upper two miles of crushed granite," Millen explained. "A large contributor to the huge time reduction of this year's record breaking run was due to the Toyo tires."
Millen's tires clearly worked well, but they wouldn't have worked for much longer -- the rears were worn down to the belts by the finish line.