Pikes Peak race report

Clint and Leonard Vahsholtz set victory records, Lovell/Turvey and Hoeck/Lin capture peak in SCCA ProRally inaugural run (SCCA times offical, remaining unofficial) COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Pikes Peak may still be Unser's Mountain, but Leonard...

Clint and Leonard Vahsholtz set victory records, Lovell/Turvey and Hoeck/Lin capture peak in SCCA ProRally inaugural run

(SCCA times offical, remaining unofficial)

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Pikes Peak may still be Unser's Mountain, but Leonard and Clint Vahsholtz can claim a piece of the rock.

The Vahsholtz duo from nearby Woodland Park passed Bobby and Robby Unser as the winningest father-son combination in the history of the Falken Tire Pikes Peak International Hill Climb during Saturday's 80th edition of the Race to the Clouds.

And that was just for starters. When Leonard captured the Super Stock Truck/SUV classification, it gave him 13 victories, tying Bobby Unser for career victories. When Clint won the Super Stock Car class, it gave him a record 10-straight wins and a record-setting seven-straight in one classification.

The 23 Vahsholtz wins pushed them past the 21 victories recorded by Bobby and Robby Unser, two of the race's greatest drivers. A dozen drivers from the Unser family have combined for 37 victories since Uncle Louis Unser claimed his first of nine victories in 1934.

"Winning never gets to be old hat,'' said Leonard, who drove his first Pikes Peak Hill Climb when Clint was just 6 years old. "I've driven a lot of races up this road, but I don't know if I've driven one better than the one I drove today.''

When dawn broke on America's Mountain, the entire field found a road that was tight in spots and loose in others. Leonard, who set the Super Stock Truck/SUV 2WD class record of 11:41.95 last year, could only clock 12:02.95 despite his self-described perfect run in his Ford Bronco. "It was just that loose,'' he said.

Once his time was posted, Leonard walked to the edge of the mountain to watch his son race.

It was a long wait. Almost 10 miles into his run, Clint was stopped by a red flag after a car ahead of him stalled in the middle of the road.

He returned to the starting line, waited almost 40 minutes and started over. So what should have been a 12.42-mile race for Clint turned into a 22.42-mile race.

"It shouldn't bother him, he's young,'' Leonard said of his 31-year-old son. It didn't. Clint stopped the clock in 11:53.05 with his Ford Mustang, not only blowing away the competition but also beating his 53-year-old father.

"Everything I have I owe to my parents,'' Clint said. "I remember coming up here when I was a little kid and sleeping in the back seat of the family car until I heard the racecar engines start. I grew up on this mountain, and I learned from the best.''

Steve Goeglein finished second to Clint in Super Stock Cars with a time of 12:25.44 and had to endure the long wait caused by Clint's restart.

"I did the best I could,'' Goeglein said while he watched the timing board at the summit. "Now all we can do is wait for Clint.''

Chad DeVries finished second to Leonard in Super Stock Trucks/SUV with a time of 12:32.22.

OPEN WHEEL: Three miles into the race, David Donner of Colorado Springs thought he'd never see the summit.

"I didn't think I'd finish," Donner said. "I had massive overheating three miles up and my oil pressure dropped. I just thought, 'oh, I'll drive it till it quits.' "

The custom-built Donner/Dykstra open wheel division racer didn't quit though. Not until Donner had crossed the finish line on the 14,110-foot summit in the fastest time of the day: 10 minutes, 52.38 seconds.

It is Donner's first title at Pikes Peak since 1991 when he also won the overall and open wheel title in the same car.

"It's past its prime," Donner said of the red Indy-style car. "It looks cool but under the skin it needs a facelift." Then he noted its overheating and lack of oil pressure and said, "The car has some issues."

Donner's decision to enter the hill climb in open wheel came late.

"I came in this year trying to get a ride in a rally deal, but nobody came forward," Donner said. "So I brought (the open wheeler) up here and won, so that's pretty cool."

Jimmy Keeney of Colorado Springs placed second with a run of 11:46.25, the third-fastest time of the day.

UNLIMITED: Per Eklund won the battle of the Swedes beating out Stig Blomqvist. Eklund's time of 11:13.24 was second-best overall. He lost the front brakes on his Saab 9-3 Viggen on the last four dizzying miles of the 156-turn course.

"It was very good (considering)," said Eklund, who won the Pikes Peak Open division in 2000. "The course was slippery and the brakes were failing, not good."

Rookie Blomqvist, who blew an engine in practice Wednesday and had another engine flown from England on short notice and prepared by the all-night efforts of his crew in time for the race. He skidded his Ford RS200E past the finish in a respectable 11:47.45.

OPEN RALLY: Pikes Peak has intimidated more than its share of rookie drivers in its 86-year history, but that didn't stop cool-headed SCCA ProRally Series defending champions, Mark Lovell (driver) and Steve Turvey (co-driver) of Great Britain. They won the Open Rally class in 11:52.69.

"It's a frightening course," Lovell said. "I think we just had a good car coming up. It was the toughest 12 miles I've ever driven in my life. It was bloody magic."

Lovell credited the victory to the all-night efforts to the crew of his 2002 Subaru WRX on the eve of the race.

"They were up tuning it in all night long," Lovell said. "I don't think they went to bed last night."

Paul Choiniere, the 1997 Pikes Peak Open division champion, and co-driver Cindy Krolikowski took second in their 2003 Hyundai Tiburon with a 12:11.30 race.

The runner-up was a welcome sight, after Choiniere blew up two turbo chargers during practice runs on the top half of the 12.42-mile course Friday, he hit a rock early in his run during the race which forced him to complete most of the course with a flat left front tire.

"I have no problems with that at all," said Choiniere of Shelburne, Vt. "I don't know what it is about this mountain. You'd think it'd be most rewarding the first time, then less and less everytime after that. But it seems like the opposite. It gets better and better."

Ramana Lagemann and co-driver Michael Kidd drove their 2002 Subaru WRX to third in 12:23.98, a day after Lagemann hung the front two wheels off the dicey stretch known as Ragged Edge during practice runs. He might have gone over - a 500 foot plunge - but bystanders held onto the bumper and jumped on the trunk as counter weight, a wrecker arrived less than a minute and a half later to pull him off the edge.

Four-time division winner at Pikes Peak, Rhys Millen finished fifth in his Mitsubishi Lancer EVO VII in 12:29.14 with co-driver Howard Watanabe. He said that immediately after starting, his fuel pump failed and he could not maintain fuel pressure.

"It was coughing and spitting and it just got worse and worse," Millen said. "I didn't need this."

Millen was visibly upset with the finish, and said he may have needed a stronger performance at Pikes Peak to remain in the Mitsubishi factory car.

SCCA PRORALLY CLASS GN: Driver Wolfgang Hoeck had won the class with a time of 12:46.07 in his 2001 Mitsubishi Lancer, but he not only had to beat the slick road, he had to overcome a fear that plagued his co-driver and wife Julie Lin.

"She's afraid of heights,'' Hoeck said. "All the way up she was telling me to stay to the inside. She didn't want us anywhere near the edge. This was our first hill climb and only our third rally, so the only goal we really had was getting it to the top.''

HPSS: Jeff Zwart of Woody Creek, driving a Porsche GT2 set the record for two-wheel-drive in the division with a time of 12:48.31 beating Rhys Millen's 1997 by a little over 11 seconds.

Zwart said he was "surprised" he got the record. It was his first time racing a two-wheel-drive, after driving four-wheel drives for years. He spent most of the week getting to know the nuances of the car on the unpredictable multi-surfaced mountain road course.

BIG RIGS: Two records were set in the classification, but one came with a cost. Bruce Canepa, who had set a qualification record for tandem axel on Thursday, stopped the clock in 13:57.83, breaking his year-old record of 13:59.96 in his 1999 Kenworth.

In single axel, Mike Ryan also set a race record, however his exact final time was not available. Ryan, who made the final run of the day, provided some excitement. He crashed his Freightliner on its side just as he tripped -- and then destroyed -- the timing mechanism. Ryan was not injured and drove the vehicle down the mountain.

PPO: Blake Fuller, of Sarasota, Fla. was almost disqualified but was granted another run and finished in a time of 13:37.06. Race officials originally ruled that Fuller had ignored a red flag warning to stop, but later reversed the decision and granted him another run.

CHAMPIONSHIP DIVISION: Butch Hardman of Golden, the ranking veteran of the entire field with 33 Pikes Peak Hill Climbs to his credit, lost first and second gear at Grouse Hill (3.9 miles into the race) and finished out the entire way in high-gear to win with a time of 12:53.03.

He had contemplated retiring but said of his decision to return, "The fans are what brought me back. There have been so many fans over the years who have said, 'Butch, you're awesome to watch.' When I come down the hill on race day and people are coming up to me wanting to give me a beer or pop, that's great. Greater than walking up to the podium and getting whatever prize."

SIDECARS: Both driver Anders Nilsson and rookie passenger Magnus Ericksson fell to the ground after they won the side car division with a 13:46.14 time, beating rivals Pete and Scott Whitney.

Ericksson crumpled to the ground though still stiff in his passenger's crouch, hands white and tense from clutching the passenger bar tightly.

"I can't feel my hands," Ericksson said, trying to uncurl his fingers.

Nilsson's fall to the powdery pink gravel atop the summit was of a more emotional kind. After finding out they had won, Nilsson fell to his knees, weeping, head in hands. He was racing to win the race in memory of his late father (and biggest supporter) Kurt Lennart Nilsson, who died Dec.24, 2001 (Christmas day in Sweden.)

"It's him," Nilsson said. "If I didn't have him I'd never have been here. This is all for him. Now he can sleep and I can take the victory home to my son."

500 PRO: Davey Durelle of Fountain, who dominated 750 Pro on the Peak for many years, wasted no-time establishing that he's the one to beat in the 500 Pro division. He outlasted Greg Tracy to win in a time of 12:40.27.

"He passed me then I passed him and I was able to put a little distance on him at the top," Durelle said.

250 PRO: Gary Tracy faired better than brother Greg, winning 250 Pro in 13:14.65. "I think now Greg and I are getting some credit for being fast guys up here. Next year we go for the win-win," Gary said.

EXHIBITION: Two alternative-fuel vehicles set records as Randy Schranz of Colorado Springs, pushed his propane-powered Cobra to the summit in 12:43.36, breaking his own record of 12:48.23 he set in 1999.

Tim Eckert also set a record in his 2002 ER2 electric car with a time of 15:18.64, bettering the mark of 15:19.91 set by Teruo Sugita in 1999.

QUAD MOTORCYCLES: Bobby Parr horsed his 2002 Lone Star to the top in 12:09.16 to claim the No. 1 spot.

"It's all about getting to the top,'' the Texan said. "Now I have to get back to that 5-month-old baby I left with my wife at the bottom.''

VANTAGE MOTORCYCLES: California resident Steve Poggi captured the classification with a time of 14:54.68 on his 1971 Yamaha. "I love it,'' he said. "Now I have to call my wife and tell her where I am. She won't believe me.''

750 PRO MOTORCYCLES: Don Wilson of Maple Valley, Wash., took the title in the most powerful motorcycle classification.

"This has been a dream of mine since I was in high school and heard about Pikes Peak,'' he said. "Besides my kids and being able to race at Daytona, this is the highlight of my life. Also, being from Washington, we know all about forest fires and we know what the people here had to get through to have this race right now.''


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About this article
Series Hillclimb
Drivers Paul Choiniere , Mark Lovell , Rhys Millen , Bobby Unser , Clint Vahsholtz , Jeff Zwart , David Donner , Robby Unser , Bruce Canepa , Jimmy Keeney , Randy Schranz , Mike Ryan , Steve Goeglein , Greg Tracy , Blake Fuller