Pikes Peak qualifying report

Vahsholtz boys untouchable, Donner fastest in Falken Tire PPIHC qualifying. COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo - Anyone who drives race cars will tell you that qualifying means very little. If it did, the guy who engraves the trophies for Saturday's 80th ...

Vahsholtz boys untouchable, Donner fastest in Falken Tire PPIHC qualifying.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo - Anyone who drives race cars will tell you that qualifying means very little. If it did, the guy who engraves the trophies for Saturday's 80th running of the Falken Tire Pikes Peak International Hill Climb better know how to spell Vahsholtz.

The father-son duo of Leonard and Clint Vahsholtz made short work of their classes in Thursday's qualifying, as both dominated their opposition. Clint won the Super Stock Car qualifying with a time of 5 minutes, 15.24 seconds while Leonard blew away the Truck & SUV class with a record-setting clocking of 5:14.16.

While both were happy with their performance, both also knew come Saturday everybody starts even again. But both also knew that wins on Sunday would put both at the top of the record book. Leonard has 12 wins in his career, one short of the Bobby Unser's 13.

Clint has won nine straight titles, three on motorcycles and six in his stock car. Nobody has ever won 10 straight. Combined, Team Vahsholtz has won 21 titles, the same as the father-son duo of Bobby and Robby Unser. One win by either Saturday would push them to the top alone.

"I told Clint before we started today that both cars should run about the same time,'' Leonard said. "I think we came pretty close.''

SUPER STOCK CARS: While Clint Vahsholtz won his classification in his 2000 Ford Mustang by more than nine seconds over qualification runner-up Lynn Cowan, the biggest surprises came in the finishes of Gay Smith and Bobby Regester, the pair who were given the best shots at ending Vahsholtz's streak. Regester was fourth in qualifying with a time 5:26.60 while Smith was sixth in 5:35.24.

Both made side trips into the hay bales that line the newly-paved first mile of the 12.42-mile course. "There were car problems, but there were driver problems, too,'' Regester said. "But it's a whole new world come Saturday.''

For Cowan, it was just another day in what has become a microcosm of his Pikes Peak career.

"I'm just happy that the car was fast enough to be there in case Clint sneezes,'' said Cowan, who set a stock car record in 1992 when he ran to the summit in 12:23.71 only to have the late Ralph Bruning erase that record just moments later with a time of 12:21.42. "I know that I have to be perfect and Clint probably has to make a bobble for me to have a chance. But that's the way it's gone for me. That was a heck of a deal that year with Ralph. I set a record and got my butt kicked.''

TRUCK & SUV: Leonard Vahsholtz ran away from runner-up Chad DeVries by more than 22 seconds with his time of 5:14.16. DeVries was clocked in 5:36.94. His time was good enough to set a 2-wheel drive truck record. DeVries took his finish philosophically.

"There were a lot of little things that didn't go right today,'' he said. "But mostly it was the driver. Since what happened last year (Chandler Bruning's death), it really bothers me when the bottom of the course gets slick and it was slick today.''

Jim Keeney was with a time of 5:51.58 as the other three entrants in the division failed to crack the 6-minute mark.

BIG RIGS: Bruce Canepa broke his own qualification record in tandem axel with a time of 6:08.72 in his 1999 Kenworth T2000. He had set the previous record of 6:22.89 in 2000.

"There really wasn't a budget to build a new truck, but there has been a lot of work on the suspension and that was the difference today. The key to making a good run in one of these is staying smooth in the turns. The work we did on the suspension started paying off yesterday in practice and came through today.''

Mike Ryan clocked 6:11.22 in his single axel Freightliner while rookie Molly Morter was 6:39.77 in her tandem Sterling 2000.

EXHIBITION: While none of the exhibition vehicles are going to win any trophies, none of the drivers are having more fun.

"This whole week has been a blast,'' said Jamie Thomas who has taken a lot of kidding from her fellow drivers who have even nicknamed her 60-horsepower 2001 Subaru Pleo the "Toaster.''

"Hey,'' Thomas protested, "I got it up to 70 mph once this week, but that was going downhill.''

The exhibition class has historically been a place for prototype and experimental cars.

This year is no different. Randy Schranz's Cobra is powered by propane. Tim Eckert's ER-2 is electric.

OPEN WHEEL: David Donner of Colorado Springs posted the fastest time Thursday in qualifying runs for Saturday's 80th running of the Falken Tire Pikes Peak International Hill Climb with a run of 4 minutes, 42.84 seconds over the 5.5 miles from the start line to Glen Cove.

Although, his Donner Dykstra was faster than any one else, Donner still sees a lot of room for improvement.

"There are a couple of things that I'm not happy with, mainly with the powerplant," Donner said. "Overall, it was handling really, really good."

And he will need all the speed he can squeeze out of his car to fend off his competition. Jimmy Olson of Denver was second quickest in open wheel and third fastest overall with a time of 4:57.27 in his EWJ Wells Coyote.

Jimmy Keeney of Colorado Springs followed closely behind with a 4:58.69 in his Greenwood-Hull FX-2.

"I definitely can't let my guard down with these guys behind me," said Donner, who won open wheel in 1991.

UNLIMITED: Per Eklund continued his consistency on the lower half of the course during qualifying runs. His run of 4:55.92 was second fastest overall on the day. Yesterday, while practicing on the same 5.5 mile stretch qualifying was held on, Eklund drove his Saab 9-3 Viggen to times of 4:58.80, 4:55.59, and 4:55.54.

"I'm happy," Eklund said. "The car worked very well."

Eklund said he did not try to push the car too hard in qualifying. "Get the car up in one piece," was his main objective.

Although, Eklund is feeling confident about his times on the lower half of the course, how his car will act on the top half remains unknown. During practice on the upper section Tuesday, Eklund failed to complete a run due to problems in the car's electrical system and cam sensor.

"I had a bad practice there, so I have no clue," Eklund said.

Stig Blomqvist, who blew an engine in Wednesday's practice run, is expected to have his car ready to challenge Eklund in the Unlimited Division on Saturday.

CHAMPIONSHIP: John Guynn of Colorado Springs slid his Ream Racer champ car to Glen Cove in 5:34.23. to edge out veteran champ car driver Butch Hardman of Golden.

"My car's been relatively trouble-free," Guynn said. "Things have been going good so I really don't have any problems."

Hardman might have been able to best Guynn but spun out just below Glen Cove.

"If I hadn't parked it, spun it, just below on the curve, we'd be sitting pretty. That cost us about three or four seconds. I guess I got a little too eager." Hardman said.

PIKES PEAK OPEN: Koichi Horiuchi of Chiba-Ken, Japan, coaxed his Mitsubishi FTO through time trials in 5:13.51, while Samuel Fuller of Sarasota, Fla., drove his Honda to a time of 5:43.28.

HPSS: Jeff Zwart of Woody Creek, Colorado, driving a 2002 two-wheel drive Porsche GT2, posted a fast time of 5:37.43, while Masayuki Akaba posted a time of 5:40.42 in a 1997 Lancer.

-ppihc-

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Series HILLCLIMB