Pikes Peak Int'l Hill Climb preview

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Colorado Springs, July 6------What began on August 10, 1916, as an automobile race featuring Barney Oldfield and Eddie Rickenbacker, created to help promote a new highway to the top of a Colorado mountain will present its 87th edition on Sunday,...

Colorado Springs, July 6------What began on August 10, 1916, as an automobile race featuring Barney Oldfield and Eddie Rickenbacker, created to help promote a new highway to the top of a Colorado mountain will present its 87th edition on Sunday, July 19, as America's second oldest motor sports race, behind only the fabled Indy 500.

The 2009 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb will spotlight almost 50 auto or truck drivers and 115 motorcycle racers in 11 divisions, including automotive, semi truck, exhibition, open wheel, super stock car, pro truck and motorcycle classes, attacking the 14,110-foot peak in one of the nation's most exciting sports events.

The Race to the Clouds takes its competitors to the summit of Pikes Peak, a distance of 19.99 km (12.42 miles) over 156 turns, climbing 1,439 meters (4,721 ft) from the start at Mile 7 on Pikes Peak Highway at 2,862 meters (9,390 ft) on grades averaging 7% over both gravel and paved sections.

NASCAR rookie Max Papis will drive the pace car to open the historic race, which will be viewed by several thousand spectators who line the road to the summit.

The buzz about this year's race centers around four well-known international drivers who will try to crack the Peak's elusive 10-minute barrier for the first time in the Unlimited division.

Two Supercharged Ford Rallycross Fiestas from the Olsberg Motor Sport Evolution team from Sweden make their debut, driven by Andreas Eriksson and rally legend Marcus Gronholm. Eriksson, 35, is a four-time Swedish rally champion, with multiple Rallycross victories, and Gronholm, 41, is one of World Rallying's greatest drivers, with two World Championships and 30 WRC victories.

Japanese superstar Nobuhiro Tajima will be back again this year in his Suzuki Sport speed machine to go for the mark again, but this time, he faces the new and exciting challenge posed by the entry of the Fiestas and their super-star Swedish drivers. He clocked 10:18.250 last summer in his attempt to crack the barrier.

But the trio will also face British Rallycross Champion Mark Rennison, a new entry who will bring his famous 1999 Ford RS200 to the Peak to square off with the three other international drivers in the assault on the record.

In all, a dozen defending champions are back from the 2008 event including record holders like veteran Rhys Millen of Huntington Beach, California (Time Attack 2WD) He set a world record on the Peak last summer with his winning clocking of 12:31.06 in a 2007 Pontiac Solstice GXP, but this time, he'll be driving a modified 550-hp Hyundai Genesis Coupe as he goes for his third straight win.

2008 Super Stock Car winner Clint Vahsholtz (Woodland Park, Colo.) has signed up to defend his Pikes Peak crown in a 2002 Ford Mustang and represent the famed family again. He's won 15 of the 17 Hill Climbs he's entered, and needs only three more wins on the Peak to break his dad's (Leonard) record mark of 18.

Also coming back to the Peak to see if he can repeat is 2008 Vintage Motorcycle winner Eddie Mulder of Littlerock, California, who won the event in 2007 as well. He's a legend in the sport, inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of fame in 1999 after winning five AMA Grand National trophies during his career. Mulder also became one of the leading stunt drivers in Hollywood for movies and television productions.

The event's popular "Fan Fest," on Friday, July 17, presented by Budweiser on Tejon, Bijou and Platte in Downtown Colorado Springs, will include seven blocks of entertainment from 5:00-10:00 p.m. for the public to enjoy.

On the scene will be the world famous Budweiser Clydesdales, a chance to meet the drivers and racers, view their cars and motorcycles, music with live local bands, a Firefighters Chili Cook-Off, food and refreshments, the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb's Mobile Museum, a merchandise and race ticket booth, displays of custom cars and motorcycles, and stuff for kids like Freestyle Motocross Jumping exhibitions.

The first running of the Pikes Peak Hill Climb in 1916 was promoted by regional icon Spencer Penrose, who had finished widening the narrow carriage road into a much wider "Pikes Peak Highway." The race was an idea to encourage tourism.

The first Pikes Peak Champion was 22-year old Rea Lentz from Washington. His Romano Demon Special was the smallest car entered and he was the youngest driver. His time was 20 minutes, 55.6 seconds. After his win, he was never heard from again by anyone associated with the race.

Among those entered in that first-ever event was crowd-pleaser Oldfield. He drove a big Delage, and while he did not distinguish himself among the top drivers, spectators came to watch this famous man attack the Peak. Rickenbacker, later to become famous as a World War I flying ace, was also registered to drive.

Duesenberg automobiles were driven, as were Cadillacs, Hudsons and a Stutz. Entry fees were $25 to $50, depending on the event. First Prizes ranged from $500 to $2,000 cash, again depending upon which event the driver entered. To further encourage competition Penrose offered a 43-inch trophy covered in Colorado silver and gold, valued at $10,000. The winners could keep the trophy for a year.

The oldest current class is the Open Wheel division which has been run since 1916 and has been won by such names as Mario Andretti, Al Unser, Bobby Unser, and Robby Unser (the current class record holder, achieving 10:05.85 min in 1994).

The overall record is held by Nobuhiro "Monster" Tajima Japan who clocked a time of 10:01.408 on July 21, 2007, driving the 1000 hp mid-engined Suzuki XL7 Hill Climb Special, breaking the previous record (set in 1994 by Rod Millen) by less than three seconds. The winning time in 1916 was 20:55.40, set by Rea Lentz.

-credit: ppihc

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