Pikes Peak is Competitive

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – You knew Nobuhiro Tajima would be fast. You had to figure Per Eklund, Paul Choiniere and Jean Pierre Richelmi would be quick. But where did Horiuchi Koichi come from? Tajima looked like the man to beat in Thursday’s...

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – You knew Nobuhiro Tajima would be fast. You had to figure Per Eklund, Paul Choiniere and Jean Pierre Richelmi would be quick. But where did Horiuchi Koichi come from?

Tajima looked like the man to beat in Thursday’s opening day of practice for the Adelphia Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. Early in the morning, the Hill Climb veteran posted a practice time of 3:19.33 – a good 10 seconds better than his nearest competitor on the fast, top portion (Devil’s Playground to the Summit) of the course. His twin-engine Suzuki Esteem ran beautifully.

“The car ran very well,” Tajima said. “All is good.”

Then came Koichi, who improved through all five practice runs. His last sprint to the summit in his No. 5 ’97 Mitsubishi FTO was fastest of the day, a 3:13.8.

“I’m surprised,” Koichi said, smiling like a kid who stole the cookies and got away with it. “We were faster than Tajima, very good.”

Of course, practice doesn’t mean he’s going to win. Koichi, of Wakaba-ku, Japan, is yet to test the bottom parts of the 12.42-mile course, which are the most difficult. There are 156 turns on the track, and about 145 of them are below Devil’s Playground where the Pikes Peak Open division started on Thursday.

And with Tajima in the race, anything can happen. Few know the course better than he does. Tajima, of Shizuoka, Japan, has placed second behind Rod Millen in the Unlimited

Division three of the last four years. He won the Unlimited title in 1995 and had plans to return this year to try and beat his old nemesis Millen, who in 1994 set the overall course record, 10:04.06.

Rechelmi, who won the Pikes Peak Open Division as a rookie last year, had the third-fastest time (3:22.32) in his No. 111 Lancia Delta Integrae. Choiniere, the 1997 PPO champ, posted a 3:23.40 in his No. 12 2000 Hyundai Tiburon. Eklund, the 1999 European Rally Cross champion, clocked a 3:23.64 in a SAAB 9-3 Viggen.

Rookie, shmookie: Pikes Peak usually isn’t friendly to rookies, but Shane Chapman, driver of the massive No. 60 2000 Sterling A113 diesel tractor, found the upper practice section to his liking. He had the fastest time of the three big rigs, clocking a 3:5 0.59, about 13 seconds faster than Mike Ryan (No. 77, 1998 Freightliner) the three-time defending Hill Climb champ.

Exhibition quads: John Stallworth and Kevin Gigot answered some questions about their Exhibition Quads. First, they are fast. Both of them hit speeds in the upper 80s.

“I’m either going to have to find some more guts or lose some brain cells,” Stallworth said.

Second, they have more questions. They only managed to make a couple of runs each and there are plenty of bugs to work out.

“We’re not running right,” Gigot said. “We had a dead battery, we have too much fuel consumption and low compression. We have to figure out this altitude.”

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About this article
Series Hillclimb
Drivers Paul Choiniere , Rod Millen , Nobuhiro Tajima