Pikes Peak International Hill Climb race report

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Gary Lee Kanawyer overcame mucky afternoon road conditions as he drove his Open Wheel 1981 Wells Coyote to the overall best time of 10 minutes, 39.76 seconds on the winding 12.42-mile road course Saturday in the 79th...

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Gary Lee Kanawyer overcame mucky afternoon road conditions as he drove his Open Wheel 1981 Wells Coyote to the overall best time of 10 minutes, 39.76 seconds on the winding 12.42-mile road course Saturday in the 79th Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.

Once again the mountain and its mirco-climate affirmed that it is the number one determinant of who goes fast and who doesn't at the Race to the Clouds. Shortly after noon, thunderclouds rolled in and hard rain and lightning fell on the lower section of the course, while snow blew across the 14,110-foot summit.

"The road was alright," said Kanawyer of Scotts Valley, Calif., who made his run after the weather had cleared. "I was a little more cautious than usual, because I just wasn't sure about the road conditions. The road had become dryer when I ran, but you don't know how much moisture is down, so I just tip-toed through it."

It was Kanawyer's sixth Open Wheel division championship, but his first overall title. Denver's Jimmy Olson, was second fastest with a time of 10:45.59 in his 1993 EWJ Wells Coyote. The competition in Open Wheel was the closest it's been in years.

"The competition pushes you to new heights," Olson said. "The main thing with raising the bar is racing with Gary Lee and David (Donner)."

Donner, of Colorado Springs was third overall with an 11:00.28 in his Donner Dykstra DD-3.

Unlimited: In just his first start in the Race to the Clouds Yutaka "Genius" Awazuhara captured the title in the Unlimited Division with a run of 11 minutes, 1.77 seconds, in his No. 07 Suzuki Grand Vitara. He was fourth fastest overall.

"I really enjoyed running through this natural beauty," said Awazahara of Shizuoka, Japan. "I really thank everyone who's been cheering me on in this. I really want to come back next year and go for the 10-minte mark."

This was supposed to be the year for his teammate and friend Nobuhiro "Monster" Tajima to go under the 10-minute mark. Tajima, failed to complete the course for the third time in five years. Tajima got off to a good start though, clocking 125 mph through Glen Cove at approximately the mid-way point on the 12.42-mile course. But about two miles from the Summit, Tajima broke a forward shock bolt which ended his record-setting bid.

Super Stock Car: For the first time in his hill climb racing career, Clint Vahsholtz had more than a few anxious moments in Saturday's 79th Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. Normally, Vahsholtz is the last stocker to climb the 12.42-mile course. And usually, when the 30-year-old Woodland Park resident arrives, the title belongs to him.

For the past five years, Vahsholtz has won the stock car championship in the Race to the Clouds. When he roared his Mustang past the checkered flag this time, his time of 11 minutes, 49.61 seconds flashed to the top of the standings, but Vahsholtz could only wait.

Behind him on the course were Bobby Regester and Gay Smith, two who had run right with - and sometimes faster - Vahsholtz during three days of practice. Smith had the fastest times on all three days of practice. Register put his Camero on its side near Boulder Park, only a mile below the finish line and was done for the day. But then there was the matter of Smith, who has been racing Pikes Peak since 1974 but has yet to win.

When Register went over, a red flag stopped the race and Smith, who was already on the course was allowed to return to the finish line for another start despite being more than halfway up the mountain.

"That's going to be a big break for him,'' Vahsholtz said as he waited at the summit. "I had a good run, but I didn't push it as hard as I normally do. I didn't go as hard into the corners - I just didn't charge as hard. The road was so slick, I ran as straight as I possibly could.''

Smith had spun out on the lower portion of the course during his first run, but all that was erased when he returned to the pits for gas and tires. Smith left the starting line again and roared to the summit.

He crossed the finish line and everyone on the summit turned to the scoreboard. It read11:54.95.Vahsholtz had won his sixth straight. Smith finished second for the sixth time.

"I bottomed out down around Cove Creek (about midway through the course) and something broke,'' Smith said as he climbed out of his car with his sixth career second-place finish. "Getting a second chance was a big advantage for me, but I really would like to have one more.''

The victory was the sixth straight in stock cars for Vahsholtz and his ninth straight on Pikes Peak counting three motorcycle titles he won before climbing into his Mustang.

The six consecutive classification wins tied him with John Crawford who won six straight production rally titles from 1982-87 and the legendary Bobby Unser who won six open wheel crowns 1958-63.

"That's the best part,'' Vahsholtz said. "That means a lot to me because I struggled with my tires all the way through practice. When I didn't run as hard as I could and still won that means I had the full package.

"I don't believe Gay would have beaten us on his first run because he spun and maybe it was justice that he broke on his second. It feels like we won it fair and square.''

HPSS: Rhys Millen took control of the classification in 1999 by winning the division. He won again and set a new record last year with a time of 12:04.61. Horsing his 2000 Mitsubishi through the 156 turns, he blew that mark away Saturday, clocking 11:58.53, marking the first time in the history of the race that a HPSS car had broken the 12-minute mark.

"The road was a lot more slippery today that it had been all week,'' the 28-year-old son of legendary hill climber Rod Millen who holds the all-time fastest time on Pikes Peak with a clocking of 10:04.06 set in 1994. "But we did what we wanted to do today. We got to the top, won the class and got under 12 minutes. It's a tribute to my sponsor, my car and my crew.''

Exhibition: The happiest man on the mountain Saturday was 'Rocket" Ron Kirkman. The 65-year-old New Zealander who first heard about Pikes Peak 50 years ago and vowed someday to drive the race, rode his exhibition 2000 Honda quad-runner to the summit in a time of 12:28.90, faster than half of the HPSS division.

"I'm on the top of the world,'' said Kirkman. "The only problem I had today was that when they gave me the green flag at the start, I was still in neutral. I guess you could say that I was a little excited.''

Randy Schranz got his propane-powered Cobra to the summit in a time of 13:04.68, missing the record of 12:48.23 he set in 1999. "It was a little slick,'' said Schranz, who was the first racer back on the course after a noon-time break that included rain, lightning and snow. "There was standing water on the lower part of the course.'' Schranz's crew even fashioned a roof for his convertible by wrapping duct tape across the top of the roll cage. Bob Land, driving an Isuzu Rodeo Sport, finished with a time of 16:02.75.

Pro quad: Bobby Parr not only successfully defended his Pro-Quad motorcycle title, the Mt. Pleasant, Texas, native set a record of 12:09.16, breaking the mark of 12:37.86 he established last year.

"That road and this mountain love me,'' said Parr, who led his class from start to finish. "When I hit second gear, I got away from them and by the time I got to Engineer's Corner (two miles from the starting line) I looked back and I knew I was all alone.''

750 Pro: Davy Durelle was the first 750cc motorcycle racer to reach the summit in 12:21.67, smashing his division record set in 1999. It was a big turnaround for Durelle who was hit by a car on the eve of the 2000 PPIHC and spent race day in the hospital.

"This is a lot better than being in the hospital,'' Durelle said just moments after flashing past the checkered flag. We were close in practice and qualifying, but today I was as good as I could be. I don't think I can run this mountain any better than I ran it today.''

Defending champion Brian Anderson was the second bike to the summit and had just one message for the man they call "Super Dave"

"You are just to damned fast,'' Anderson said reaching over to slap a high-five with Durelle.

Super Truck and SUV: Leonard Vahsholtz of Woodland Park, Colo., smashed the Super Truck and SUV Two-wheel Drive division record by almost 40 seconds at the 79th Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.

He raced his 1996 Ford Bronco 12.4 miles to the 14,110-foot high summit of Pikes Peak in only 11:41.95. This broke the old two-wheel drive record of 12:23.65 set in 2000 by Tyler Casebier of Fruita, Colo.

This was Vahsholtz's 12th victory at this race. His son, Clint, also won today in the Stock Car division. Together, they are one of the winningest father/son teams in Pikes Peak Hill Climb history.

"Given the equipment, I think we've done a better job than anybody," Leonard Vahsholtz said.

Sidecar: The two fastest teams in the Sidecar division of the 79th Pikes Peak International Hill Climb stayed together for most of the top section of the course before Peter and Scott Whitney passed the Swedish team of Anders Nilsson and Tom Grindberg at the left-hand curve before Bottomless Pit and charged to victory in a race record time of 13:42.06. Nilsson and Grindberg won the Sidecar division last year and set the record at 13:53.38.

The two sidecars made contact during their competitive run. At one point, Nilsson and Grindberg hit Scott Whitney in the back with their handlebars. Then, as the battle continued, Scott said he hit the Swedes' clutch with his elbow. That was the last time the Swedish team was any trouble, Scott said.

"Physically, I'm wasted," Scott said after the race. "I can't feel my arms."

Grindberg said he and Nilsson were severely disappointed. The two Swedes couldn't lose the Whitney Brothers all through the race, and when the Whitney's passed, the Swedes couldn't regain their position.

Pete Whitney said he was elated. "I can't tell you how proud I am we brought that trophy back home. I cried when it went overseas," he said.

Pikes Peak Open: Pikes Peak defeated two drivers in the Pikes Peak Open Division at the 79th Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, but it couldn't beat a third. Jean Pierre Richelmi, driving a Toyota Corolla, charged to victory in a time of 11:34.51. Richelmi reclaimed the title he won in 1999. In 2000, Sweden's Per Eklund took the Open title with a record run of 11:21.58. But the 56-year-old Rally driver experienced serious mechanical problems. He finished the race with a flat tire and a time of 12:08.30. He drives a 2000 Saab 9-3 Viggen.

He said that he hit a rock somewhere near the top of the course and punctured his tire. Then his gearbox broke and he could only shift between first and second gears. After that, his power steering belt broke. His run was "absolutely perfect," he said, until his tire was punctured.

Koichi Horiuchi of Japan experienced more bad luck when his 2001 Mitsubishi FTO broke down at Cog Cut, just two curves from the summit and finish line. He has not finished a Hill Climb since 1998. He also had serious trouble at every practice session this week. He broke his turbo Monday, his transfer Tuesday and his transmission Wednesday.

Per Eklund from Sweden also experienced serious mechanical problems, but he finished the race with a time of 12:08.30. He drives a 2000 Saab 9-3 Viggen. He said that he hit a rock somewhere near the top of the course and punctured his tire. Then his gearbox broke and he could only shift between first and second gears. After that, his power steering belt broke.

His run was "absolutely perfect," he said, until his tire was punctured.

Jean Pierre Richelmi of Monaco won the Pikes Peak Open division with a time of 11:34.51. This was the second time he won that division.

"I drive very carefully, it was very slippery," Richelmi said. "I had a problem with the engine, too much heat."

Big Rigs: The current Unlimited Big Rig division record holder and four-time champion did not finish at this year's 79th Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.

Mike Ryan's 1998 Freightliner Century Class ST ran off the road at Engineer's Corner just two miles from the start line. Witnesses say he high centered on the embankment. This is the first year in five attempts that he did not finish the Hill Climb.

His competitor, Bruce Canepa, had the best run of his Hill Climb career today with a record time of 13:59.96 for double-axel Big Rigs. Last year, he was much slower with a time of 14:34.41.

"I was aggressive as I could be without slowing the truck down," he said. He also credited changes made to his truck over the last year with his win.

He said the truck is 1,400 pounds lighter, has a more powerful engine than last year, and a totally different transmission.

250 Pro: Paul Zinke won the 250 Pro motorcycle division for the first time in his Pikes Peak International Hill Climbing history at the 79th Race to the clouds.

"The road was sweet," Zinke said after his 1995 Kawasaki KX 250 crossed the finish line. His time was 13:05.91, shy of the record 12:52.94 set by Don Bruner in 2000.

500 Pro: Perhaps the most thrilling example of side-to-side racing came in the 500cc motorcycle division, where defending champion Greg Chicoine, of Jefferson, S.D., battled with Greg Tracy, of Long Beach, Calif., all the way up the 156-curve mountain road. They estimated that they traded leads 6 to 8 times - at 80-90 miles per hour, and all within six inches of each other. Chicoine eventually won with a record run of 12:41.95

"(Tracy) is so great to race with, no bumping," said Chicoine. "I will never be in a race that cool again. It was the last guy who made he pass who would win it." Chicoine - riding a Kawasaki KX - took the lead for good on the turn following Bottomless Pit, near the Summit.

"First I want to say that this race was for a lot of people, but first it was for Donnie. We all miss you brother," Chicoine said. Donnie, was Don Bruner, a Pikes Peak Hill Climb Champion in the 250cc class, who died in a racing accident last September.

"It was extreme racing," said Tracy, who rode a Honda CR. "We battled all the way from the start. Every single one of the passes you just had to push 110 percent. Each one of us was racing the fast line, so you had to get off into the loose stuff to make the (passing) move."

Eddie Mulder of Algue Dulce, Calif. won his third Vintage motorcycle with a 13:44.34 ride on his 1969 Triumph Bonneville.


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About this article
Series Hillclimb
Drivers Rhys Millen , Bobby Unser , John Crawford , Clint Vahsholtz , Bruce Canepa , Rod Millen , Eddie M , Randy Schranz , Mike Ryan , Greg Tracy