Eight-time race winner Robby Unser will drive pace car in Falken Tire Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - The Falken Tire Pikes Peak International Hill Climb has been racing around Robby Unser's mind since he was eight years old. And though he won't compete in this year's 80th running of the Race to the Clouds, he will be on Pikes Peak as driver of the official pace car, a 2003 Mitsubishi Eclipse.
"When I spent my nights dreaming as a kid, it would be about Pikes Peak," Unser said. "I'd remember two corners and go over them again and again and again. The next year it was 10 corners, then 15, then 20, then ..." till he had all 156 turns etched indelibly in his mind.
In his decade of competition at Pikes Peak, Robby, son of Bobby Unser Sr., certainly drove the snaking 12.42-mile course like he could do it with his eyes closed. He has won eight division titles at Pikes Peak, and an overall title in 1992. His 1994 time of 10 minutes, 5.85 seconds in a Speedway Chevy open wheel racer is the third-fastest time ever at Pikes Peak. Only Rod Millen has gone faster, on two occasions.
In Hill Climb circles, Pikes Peak is sometimes called Unser Mountain. Twelve members of the Unser family - dating back to Robby's great uncles Joe and Louis Unser, who starting racing the Pikes Peak Hill Climb in 1926 -- have driven in the event. Together the Unser family has won 36 division championships and set 30 division records at Pikes Peak. The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb was first contested in 1916. It is the second-oldest motorsports event in the U.S. Only the Indianapolis 500 is older.
"As an Unser, that's what you did," Robby said.
During his five-year absence from the Hill Climb, Robby Unser raced in the Indy Racing League among other racing series. He has also spent considerable time developing his website (http://www.unservillage.com ) with the support of rallysport.com. Lately though, Unser has focused his attention on establishing himself on the SCCA ProRally circuit.
"I see ProRally as where the most interesting competition is going to be at Pikes Peak," he said. Pikes Peak veterans Rhys Millen and Paul Choiniere will compete in the division, as well as Mark Lovell of Great Britain, the current U.S. ProRally champion. He thinks the union between the SCCA and Pikes Peak is a natural. "(The SCCA) is something I think is going to grow, and I want to be part of it when it does," Unser said.
Always ambitious to be the best, Unser says, "I want to put myself in a position to be the first American to win the World Rally championship."
Priceless experience in the unpredictable conditions of Pikes Peak's micro-climate will undoubtedly help Unser.
"You really have to get in tune with how hard you can push without making a mistake," he said. "It's a tough race from a lot of different aspects: You've got to know the road, you've got to have a car that works in a lot of different situations, and you've got to be able to drive the car in a lot of different conditions. You only see the corner once, so there's no second lap to make it better."
Unser sees the race more as an artistic exercise than a sport.
"It's more of a dance, when you're racing in competition," he said. "At Pikes Peak you really have to get into a dance, a rhythm.You don't ever get up Pikes Peak without a mistake - nobody's that good. I've seen lots of guys make mistakes, overdriving the car. It's a really mental race. You have to be able to get into a rhythm. If you don't do what you wanted to in a certain place you have to let that go."
The secrets of that meticulously metered pace, sharpened over 10 years experience and countless REM cycles, Unser will gladly share with others. He holds back no secrets about his knowledge of the road.
"Anybody who asks me anything or wants to know anything, I'll tell them," Unser said. "I don't want to beat them because I know the road better, I want to beat them by driving it better."
Of course, Beethoven could give you all the notes to his Ninth symphony, but good luck trying to write it exactly like he did.
Unser says the Pikes Peak Hill Climb is unique because it strips away the pretensions that sometimes cloud head-to-head racing.
"Of course I love Pikes Peak, that goes without saying," he said. "It's about you and the car and the mountain. It's a magical, spiritual, special place. It teaches you about life and yourself."