Team Mitsubishi places two cars in top five during Pikes Peak International Hill Climb; Pikes Peak rookie O'Sullivan posts upset.
CYPRESS, Calif., July 1 -- Rookie Pikes Peak driver Lauchlin O'Sullivan and navigator Matt Chester, driving Team Mitsubishi's backup all-wheel-drive Lancer Evolution, shocked the SCCA Open Class and awed spectators along the 12.4-mile "Race to the Clouds" with a Third Place finish during the 80th running of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb on Saturday.
O'Sullivan, who holds a commanding lead in the SCCA Group 2 class driving a Lancer O-Z Rally Edition two-wheel-drive, found himself behind the wheel of the team's backup Lancer Evolution after his boss, Rhys Millen of Rhys Millen Racing, offered him the ride at the last minute. It didn't take long for the veteran rally driver to acclimate himself to the much more powerful car -- and the guardrail-less road that contains 156 corners and 1,000-foot cliffs that greet those racing up "America's Mountain."
Racing at speeds nearing 100 mph over the predominantly gravel road that snakes it way up the face of 14,110-foot Pikes Peak, O'Sullivan finished 13 seconds behind Paul Choiniere's Hyundai Tiburon and a mere 8/100ths of a second ahead of Ramana Lagemann's Subaru. The third place finish also added valuable points for Team Mitsubishi in the SCCA Manufacturers Championship.
"I still can't believe we have a podium finish," said an ecstatic O'Sullivan. "We were a little sloppy coming up the mountain, but the beautiful balance of the Evo and the ability of this car's all-wheel-drive to get the power down to the road made up for a lot of our mistakes. This is better than Christmas."
The real shock came as O'Sullivan found out he'd also finished less than 6 seconds ahead of lead-driver and team boss Rhys Millen who was driving the new Lancer Evolution VII. Millen, an 11-year veteran of Pikes Peak and the 2001 Pikes Peak HP Showroom Stock champion and record holder, posted the best time during Friday's qualifying run on the lower section of the course and looked like a sure candidate for the Open Class win.
America's Mountain wasn't as kind to Millen on race day. A fuel delivery problem at the starting line and engine overheating near the summit proved to be more than the talented ProRally driver could overcome, resulting in a 5th overall.
Team Mitsubishi heads to the East Coast for Round 7 in three weeks as they take on the Maine Forest Rally at Rumford, Maine. Then the ProRally tour heads to Bemidji, Minnesota (Ojibwe Forrests, August 16-17), Olympia, Washington (Wild West, Sept. 7-8), and the final event in Houghton, Michigan (Lake Superior, Oct. 18-19.)
Team Mitsubishi ProRally fans can watch the 2002 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb when it airs on ESPN2 on Saturday, August 24th at 3:00 PM (Eastern time), and re-airs on Sunday, August 25 at 11:30 PM (Eastern).