Absolute Victory at Pike's Peak Hill Climb! Widget Team Wins Both Hill Climb and Rally Colorado Springs, CO. The Pike's Peak International Hill Climb is the second oldest race in America and this year it was won by the California-based...
Absolute Victory at Pike's Peak Hill Climb!
Widget Team Wins Both Hill Climb and Rally
Colorado Springs, CO. The Pike's Peak International Hill Climb is the second oldest race in America and this year it was won by the California-based Widget Rally Team in dramatic come-from-behind fashion. The 82nd edition of the classic "race to the clouds " was completed June 27th. Racing in the "Group O" class for rally cars, driver Leon Styles (Mission Viejo, CA) and codriver John Dillon (Thousand Oaks, CA) completed the 12.4-mile 156-turn climb to 14,110 feet in 12 minutes 16.02 seconds, almost 30 seconds ahead of their nearest rivals. Pike's Peak was also the first ever overall ProRally victory for the team.
New for 2004, an additional four "stages" (competitive sections of road) were added to the Falken Tire-sponsored hill climb, with the combined times determining the winner of the new SCCA Pike's Peak ProRally. Styles and Dillon finished first overall in this rally too, adding a silver victory cup to the stack of hardware they carried back to California. It's the first time competitors have ever raced 'the mountain' from the very bottom, or at night, or on more than one day. The teams faced a challenging schedule under variable weather conditions, but at the end of it all Leon and John came out on top.
This year the Group O trophy was renamed the "Lovell/Freeman Award," named in honor of Mark Lovell and Roger Freeman, who died three weeks after their 2003 Pike's Peak record-setting victory. "Last year I got to know Mark here in Colorado," reported Styles. "His children and mine are about the same age. Like everyone in our sport, I was devastated by his passing." He dedicated his first-ever ProRally victory to last year's winners. "Just before the start of the hill climb I stood in front of the car and talked to them. I felt their presence all the way up the mountain."
His codriver John Dillon observed, "Leon drove with absolute commitment in every corner. I've never seen him so focused in the car." Dillon gave credit to crew chief Frank Brown for providing a reliable machine to tackle the challenge. "When the car arrived at Phil Long Mitsubishi, who gave us tremendous support, it still needed extensive work. Frank and a Phil Long employee, Travis Flesher, worked on drive train issues to insure we'd have a safe reliable car when it came time to race."
The team's Technical Director Chad DiMarco, himself a multi-time national champion, coached Styles up the hill. "Leon put his whole heart into the race today," he said. "I could help him with tire choice and racing lines, but he had to do the really hard work--he had to wrestle the car to the top."
Team mates Nick Korpal (Las Vegas, NV) and Neil Smith (San Francisco, CA) completed the Pike's Peak Hill Climb as well, in their first attempt. "It's been my dream for 20 years to race up the mountain," reported Korpal. "I'm thrilled that we made it to the top, especially with all the weird weather conditions we experienced this week." On Friday's third stage, which took them to from Cove Creek to the summit, ice and snow at the top slowed all the teams. Korpal, owner of the team's transportation sponsor 7-24 AirX, added "It's great to be a part of this team, both as a sponsor and a competitor. Though I won't be racing in Maine, you can bet you'll see our 18-wheeler there in Rumford. We've got a great partnership going."
In addition to Phil Long Mitsubishi, another local sponsor came on board to help the team. The Le Baron Hotel, in downtown Colorado Springs, provided accomodations to the entire Widget group and offered discounts to other racers and fans. MaryLynn Ballard, the hotel's Director of Sales & Marketing said, "We knew the guys were going to have a grueling schedule; we were glad to offer them a place to relax at the end of the day."
Dillon added, "Even though Pike's Peak is a very big race and closely watched all around the world, we're still a pretty small team. It's only because of the support we get from local businesses like the Le Baron Hotel and Phil Long Mitsubishi, along with our regular sponsors, that we're able to accomplish what we have."
About the Sport Rallying is the ultimate team motorsport where street-licensed cars are raced at high speed on dirt trails with two people in the car, a driver behind the wheel and a codriver describing every bend in the road. With the exception of Pike's Peak and Ramada Express, U.S. competitors are not allowed to pre-run the roads so they are racing "blind," navigating from a route book provided just hours prior to the event. Cars can easily reach speeds above 100 MPH as they snake between trees and along the edges of cliffs in this sport of strength and stamina.