COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Suzuki's drive for the 10-minute mark on Pikes Peak hit a speed bump during Wednesday's third day of practice in preparation for the 79th Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. Yutaka "Genius" Awauhara placed his Grand ...
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Suzuki's drive for the 10-minute mark on Pikes Peak hit a speed bump during Wednesday's third day of practice in preparation for the 79th Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.
Yutaka "Genius" Awauhara placed his Grand Vitara on its roof in a wreck on the top portion of Pikes Peak's 12.4-mile course. He was not injured and is expected to have his car in condition for Saturday's running of the Race to the Clouds.
Nobuhiro Tajima, who is driving a Suzuki Aerio in the Unlimited division said the road conditions at the top may not be suitable for a 10-minute run on Saturday. He may also be keeping his cards close to his vest. Tajima clocked 122.4 mph during one practice run and finished with a time of 2:52.54 between Devil's Playground and the Summit.
Adding his fastest practice runs from all three sections, Tajima's time falls in the 10:10 to 10:20 range. The good news is that he is yet to push his No. 01 Aerio to its maximum turbo ability. The bad news is heavy rains high on Pikes Peak left the road in poor shape with bumps and ruts. Can he break 10 minutes, the magical mark on Pikes Peak? Perhaps, but Mother Nature, as always, will have the final say. Tajima was not the fastest driver on the top part of the course. That honor went to Gary Lee Kanawyer who piloted his Wells Coyote open wheel car to a time of 2:51.05 on the top part of the course.
Stock cars: Forget lines in the sand. The tire tracks have been drawn in the dirt. During Wednesday's final day of practice, drivers Gay Smith, Clint Vahsholtz and Bobby Regester all showed that they could win on Saturday.
Just like they had done during the first two days of practice on the other portions of the course, Vahsholtz, the five-time defending stock car champion; Regester, who owns titles in two classes; and Smith, the 27-year veteran who has yet to crack the winner's circle, took turns recording the fastest times from the Starting Line to the Ski Area 4.5 miles away.
"We are in better shape now than we've ever been,'' said Smith, who finally recorded the best time of the morning with a clocking of 3 minutes, 40.63 seconds on his fourth run of the session. "But if any of the three of us bobbles on race day, the other two will drive right past him.''
Regester, who won the stock car title in 1995 and the open wheel title in 1980, had the fastest time of the first run but missed the last because his crew found rod bearing shavings in the oil filter. The car was taken from the mountain and back to the garage for a look-see, but no one - especially Smith and Vahsholtz - figured Regester was going to watch the race from the sidelines.
"They will be back,'' Vahsholtz said. "Even if they have to stay up all night putting in a new engine, they aren't going to miss the race.''
Meanwhile, Vahsholtz was trying out yet another set of tires, looking for the perfect rubber.
"The ones we ran late this morning worked well,'' said Vahsholtz, who didn't have the fastest time in any run but was second in four of five trips. "Now we'll have to sit around and think about it tonight.''
Tires are a big deal - especially for the heavy, high-horsepowered stock cars. According to race rules, drivers must use the same make and model of tires for qualifying and the race proper. If they had a choice, they would use soft tires for qualifying and a harder (read: longer-lasting) compound for race day.
"It's a crap shoot,'' said Regester, who tried three different tires on Tuesday's second day of practice. "At best, it's a coin flip.''
It was also evident that Wednesday was the day to push a little harder. Steve Goeglein, second to Vahsholtz last year, put his 2001 Camaro on its roof midway through the practice session.
"It just started to spin, and I ran out of road,'' said Goeglein, who walked away from the wreck unhurt. "The plan is to be back tomorrow (Thursday) for qualifying.''
Layne Schranz also had problems as he threw his right front wheel and slammed into the ditch.
"The wheel just flew off,'' said the 29-year-old Schranz, who was the stock car rookie of the year in 1997. "The right suspension is gone, but we're very lucky that nothing else was damaged.''
Schranz said the car can be repaired and had secured parts from fellow competitors before he left the mountain.
"What happen with Steve and Layne today showed just how hard we are pushing the envelope,'' Smith said. "A couple of very good drivers got in trouble.''
Pit stops: During Tuesday's second day of practice in the top third of the course, High Performance Showroom Stock driver Blake Fuller ran his 2000 Acura into a ditch and slightly bent the right front fender. Fuller was again off the road Wednesday, this time bending both sides of his car.
"I just hope this isn't a trend,'' he said. "I just made a mistake and the mountain made me pay for it.
"Rocket" Ron Kirkman finally solved the fuel problems his Honda Blackbird Quad had been fighting for the first two days of practice. Borrowing racing fuel from HPSS defending champion Rhys Millen, Kirkman roared through the lower third of the course.
"It's purring like a baby kitten now,'' said the 65-year-old Kirkman of New Zealand. "I'm one helluva' happy man right now."
For the record, Kirkman had better times than three of the high performance showroom stock cars.
While Layne Schranz had trouble with his car, his father Randy was busy scrambling to rebuild the engine of his propane-powered Cobra.
"We burned the pistons on Tuesday,'' Randy said. "We'll have it back together for qualifying.''
Big Rigs bust trannies: The course of the 79th Pikes Peak International Hill Climb knocked the only two big rigs in the Big Rig division out of commission for most of Wednesday's practice.
Mike Ryan, who drives a 1998 Freightliner Century Class ST and has set three records for his division, experienced trouble even before he crossed the start line in the section of the course between the Ski Area and Devil's Playground. As his truck rumbled toward the line, he was not able to accelerate. He backed into the pit area where his mechanics told him his computer had a glitch.
He practiced on the third and fourth runs, but on the fourth run, his transmission started leaking.
According to Ryan, he hit a rock lying in the middle of the road. He said he thought the rock punctured his transmission, causing the leak. He was unable to practice the rest of the morning but said the transmission should be repaired in time for qualification Thursday.
Bruce Canepa, driver of a 1999 Kenworth T2000, also had disabling transmission trouble.
Just as he shifted into second gear on his second run, he heard a clank. His rig wouldn't go up the hill. He backed into the pit area where his mechanics said they thought it was the transmission.
"This transmission has been bulletproof," Canepa said. He added that this was the best one he's ever used and was disappointed that it broke.
He said the input shaft might be broken, but it should be fixed in time for qualification Thursday.
Canepa said he was happy with his performance at practice the last three days. He has had practice times 50 seconds faster than his fastest practice times last year, and he has been within 12 seconds of Ryan on most of his runs.
Mechanical problems also plagued Koichi Horiuchi from Japan for the third day in a row. He drives a 2001 Mitsubishi FTO in the Pikes Peak Open division. On the sixth practice run, his transmission broke. His mechanics were unable to repair it and said Horiuchi might not return Thursday to qualify because they don't have the necessary spare parts. Horiuchi also broke his differential Tuesday and his turbo Monday.
He did not even start in last year's Hill Climb, nor did he finish in 1999. In 1998, he placed third in Pikes Peak Open.
Richard DeVries, 1997 Ford Ranger driver from Wheatridge, may also be out of the race because of an accident between mile markers eight and nine. DeVries' front left shock bracket broke. He was allowed to go down to the start line to have it welded. After only three turns on his way back to the ski area, his truck went off the road and into the trees. It is not certain if the damage will prevent DeVries from racing or qualifying.
Neck and Neck: Per Eklund from Arvika, Sweden and Jean Pierre Richelmi from Monte Carlo, Monaco, both racing in the Pikes Peak Open division, were the two fastest drivers on the middle section of the course today. Eklund completed the section in only 4:03.09 in his 2000 Saab 9-3 Viggen. Richelmi was only about two seconds slower with a time of 4:05.51 in his Toyota Corolla. Both drivers said the practice was good. Richelmi said he focused on which tires to use for race day while Eklund focused on practicing the route. Richelmi's chief mechanic, Marco Pastorino, said the only way Richelmi will beat Eklund is if Eklund has the wrong tires and a bad run.