Marcus Gronholm has his head in the clouds this week. Literally. The two-time World Rally champion is getting ready to qualify for the Pikes Peak International Hillclimb, with the main event to be run on Sunday. Gronholm and Swedish rallycross...
Marcus Gronholm has his head in the clouds this week. Literally. The two-time World Rally champion is getting ready to qualify for the Pikes Peak International Hillclimb, with the main event to be run on Sunday.
Gronholm and Swedish rallycross ace Andreas Eriksson are in Colorado for the 87th running of the famed hillclimb, which reaches an altitude 4300m (14,110 ft) at the top of the 20km/12.42-mile course. Their weapon of choice? Ford's stunning new Fiesta in European Rallycross Championship trim.
While mechanically similar to the WRC-spec Ford Focus in many respects, the ERC rules allow considerably larger restrictors, and the Fiesta is estimated to produce some 800 hp, with only 1200 kg (2650 lbs) of weight to move.
"This is a hard race because of the altitude and that caused us problems (yesterday), but we will solve them," said Eriksson. "That's why we come with two cars because you have a double chance to get it right. Everything we are trying to do we are trying to be the best that we can and I think we will be competitive on Sunday. It is a long way and it is a hard mountain to climb."
Eriksson, who also manages the works-backed Olsbergs MSE rallycross team in addition to driving, convinced Ford Racing that Pikes Peak was the ideal way to introduce the new Fiesta to the American enthusiast audiences. And with the WRC-spec rally cars restricted to considerably lower power, the rallycross Fiesta was the obvious choice.
"You have much more horsepower in this car compared to the WRC cars and it's a bit of a different drive," Gronholm related his experiences on his new steed. "On the sea level it was really fantastic, to have that power. Now we are just working once again to get it working with the altitude."
"The differences, there aren't so many, the Fiesta is more of a Rallycross car with the different suspension," he continued. "The differentials and things like that are really quite the same. Shifting is a little bit different, smoother in the WRC cars, but it's still good in this
Gronholm drove the Focus in the WRC during the 2006 and 2007 seasons, coming second in the championship by the slimmest of margins each year. Now the Finnish veteran is looking to add Pikes Peak to his tally of 30 WRC victories.
"We did (well) today with the new engine," said Gronholm. "For tomorrow we have to get new parts to get shorter first and second gears, that's the only problem. Drivability is really good on the course, really nice and fast flowing at parts, so it's really good." one."
There is one obvious target for the team: the overall victory. In the open class, there are only two additional competitors, but those are ones to be taken very, very seriously.
Nobuhiro "Monster" Tajima will again be piloting a works-backed Suzuki Hillclimb Special, though this year it is an SX4, rather than the XL7 in which he set the overall record of 10:01.148 in 2007.
"The 2009 Monster Sport SX4 Hillclimb special is fantastic!" said Tajima. "After testing it I know that it is the fastest car I have driven and if all is good with the course I am totally confident of breaking the record !"
In addition, UK-based Mach 2 Racing has brought over another Ford: an RS200. One of the last Group B rally cars, it was originally built in 1986, and subsequently driven (for Mach 2) by rally legend Stig Blomqvist in the 2002 and 2004 Pikes Peak hillclimbs. With 1150 nitrous oxide-enhanced horsepower moving just 1050 kg (2315 lbs) of weight, the team feels they have the winning combination this year.
While they were not able to sign up Blomqvist for this year's challenge, they do have Mark Rennison, a former British rallycross champion to guide their beast to the top of the mountain.
Ever since Michele Mouton shocked the Pikes Peak establishment in 1985 by smashing through the field in her WRC-spec Audi Sport Quattro, the words "Pikes Peak" have been recognized and revered in the international rally and rallycross circles. This year's Race to the Clouds promises once again to be hard-fought, and the ten-minute barrier will certainly be at risk.
Qualifying will be completed on Friday, and the race will start at 9 AM CDT on Sunday.