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The Lost Story Of Pikes Peak 2012: Interview With Rhys Millen

 
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Rhys Millen and his Hyundai Genesis Coupe at the 2012 Pikes Peak Hill Climb

If you didn't see Pikes Peak rookie (and our friend) Jeremy Foley go flying off the side of the mountain at the Devil's Playground, you probably don't even know what the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is. But even those that saw Foley's incredible crash (and miraculous survival) may have missed the even bigger story of the event: Rhys Millen's record-setting run.

It's not just the fact that Millen set a new record up the mountain--with the whole route paved, a new record was expected--it's that he did it with minimal preparation, in a production-based Time Attack-class car--what was basically a drift car, actually. And he beat the Open and Unlimited classes up the mountain in the process.

Those faster cars weren't being driven by amateurs, either: the fastest was wheeled by Romain Dumas, a proven and experienced endurance racer that has raced for Porsche's factory team, Audi's factory team, Pescarolo, Penske, and others. He's a hell of a driver, and he had a hell of a car--and still Millen outran him. Paul Dallenbach might have outrun even Millen, but he too crashed in a scary, high-speed incident.

We recently spoke with Millen via telephone from his Long Beach workshop, and asked him what it was like to set the record, how he did it, and what his plans are for next year.

Motor Authority: How did you feel when you learned you'd set a new record up the mountain?

Rhys Millen: It was probably one of the highlights of my career, an overwhelming feeling of relief. It wasn't really an attempt at the overall. This year was to defend Rod's [Rhys's father -- Ed.] record in the Genesis Coupe in the Time Attack class.

MA: So how was the car? The video made it look like a very composed drive.

RM: [Laughs] The marketing director said we should have made a crazy video to make it look as exciting as it really was. Dumas had a very impressive time, so I pushed very hard, but the last mile or so I pulled back to play it safe.

The engine package was the same as the drift car, but I had a chance to drive the [Genesis Coupe] one-make series in Korea, and took away a lot of valuable information for Pikes Peak in terms of setup. The Hankook tire really helped with grip on the pavement.

Drift rules are far more limiting than Pikes Peak rules. We used lots of stock parts in the engine  [for this year's Pikes Peak run], which we wouldn't need to do on an all-out build.

MA: What are your feelings about the course being completely paved now?

RM: I love the thrill of it. Years past, you used to race the mountain. Experience gave you an advantage, due to constantly changing grip conditions. The "blue groove" would form where rubber accumulates in the dirt. Now you're racing the competition.

Romain Dumas is a perfect example--it was his first time on the mountain, but he has the perfect skill set to draw on.

[Dumas was the second-fastest man up the mountain this year, driving an Open class Porsche 911 GT3 R, just 0.017 seconds slower than Millen's Genesis Coupe--Ed.]

MA: What are your plans for next year's Pikes Peak hill climb?

RM: None! I have no contract with any sponsors for next year. I do have aspirations to go back to the Unlimited division--whoever we go with. A real unlimited car could break 9:00 now.

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We'd love to see Millen back on the mountain next year, especially in an Unlimited car--and doubly so with an eye for breaking the 9:00 mark up the tortuous, treacherous route. After all, getting to the top in record time is, for us, even more impressive than flying off of it.



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