Motorsport: Son of a gun, Millen comes close

By Matt Greenop

Kiwi-born race driver, drift champion and Hollywood stunt driver Rhys Millen came tantalisingly close to victory at the legendary Pikes Peak International Hillclimb this year - but reckons he's got the goods to win in 2012.

Millen was on pace to threaten the race winner, veteran Nobuhiro "Monster" Tajima, in the flagship Unlimited Class, and the course record, but the IndyCar-spec brakes on his purpose built Hyundai-powered PM580 faded and put paid to this year's aspirations.

Tajima broke his own record in his 670kw (900hp) Monster Sport Suzuki SX4 and smashed the 10-minute barrier that had eluded him and Rhys' father, Rod (who held the course record for an unprecedented 12 years), for years.

But as the course has gradually been paved, the pace has improved - meaning new records aren't comparable to those from any of the previous 89 years the race has been going. Next year, there will be no dirt sections at all.

Monster, who turned 61 this week, was expected to retire in 2011 - but insiders believe the lure of the mountain may be too much for him to resist - especially with another Millen threatening his 9m 51.28s record.

See the video of Tajima's record run here.

"Overall, I was very pleased with the run up the mountain," said Millen, noting that practice and qualifying runs indicated a fast run if everything came together.

"Qualifying day, we only got in two runs and damaged the transmission on the second, leaving us nine seconds behind Monster and second overall. I was confident that we had lost three to four seconds with the loss of fourth gear and, with the total times for the week, mentally knew we had a fighting chance and would go sub-10 minutes."

But the gods weren't smiling on the New Zealander come race day last weekend, where competitors had one run up the high-altitude course, complete with 156 corners and dizzying drop-offs.

"We set the fastest first sector to picnic grounds and then transferred to the dirt," he said. "At halfway Glenn Cove I felt ... that we were on a good run - a review showed us less than four seconds down. Halfway into the second sector the brakes started to fade and then two corners later the pedal was flat to the floor."

Because the hillclimb starts at 2862m and finishes at 4300m and Unlimited cars hit speeds of up to 225km/h - even for the bravest soul, brakes are quite important.

"Having to pump the pedal for pressure and lift early on straightaways times also show a loss of six seconds. I knew the top section was going to be tough but the car was performing strong and the chassis was smooth and predictable - braking was still my major issue."

Millen said race video showed a loss of at least 22 seconds - putting the 630kW turbo V6 PM580 a mere tick of the clock away from Tajima. His final time was 10m 09.24s, with a second placing overall.

"Overall, I was super happy with the car's performance," Millen told Driven, noting that the transmission and the carbon-fibre brakes were the weak link.

"With changes to the brakes and transmission, I am confident that we have the right package for the overall win next year."

- NZ Herald

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