Pikes Peak is one of the fiercest challenges in motorsport. Autocar takes a look back at the historic event
18 August 2012

This week, one of the most famous names in the history of the Pikes Peak hillclimb smashed the course record. Rhys Millen, driving a Hyundai Genesis, shaved 5.0sec off the record on the newly-tarmaced track.

Rhys Millen is the son of Rod Millen, a driver who dominated the event throughout much of the 1990s. He set the course record in 1994 with a time that stood until 1997.

Millen junior narrowly edged former Le Mans winner Romain Dumas’ Porsche 911 GT3 R by less than two hundredths of a second over the 12.42-mile course.

This year’s event is the first time the entire course has been paved, although the winding route to the 4303m summit has been largely unchanged since the original route was laid. The Pikes Peak hillclimb now features classes for vintage, electric, open-wheel and production-based cars, as well as motorcycles and sidecars.

Pikes Peak's story began in the early 1800s, when American President Thomas Jefferson ordered the exploration of the Great Plains and beyond. A few years later, Lt. Zebulon Pike saw the mountain which bears his name. He never reached the summit, and declared it unconquerable by man. 

On August 12, 1901 C.A Yont and W.B Felker drove (and occasionally pushed) their 2-cylinder Locomobile Steamer to the top in nine hours. A few years later a man named Spencer Penrose finished converting the carriage way into Pikes Peak highway. In a publicity stunt to show off his town and the scenic road, he organised a race to the summit. 

The first Pike’s Peak Auto Hill Climb took place in August 1916. Rae Lentz took first place in his aero-engined Romano Demon special in 20 minutes 55.6secs, significantly improving on the Locomobile Steamer’s time. 

Rhys Millen’s record of 9min 41.164sec is less than half of that time, but the appetite for these drivers to push the limits of what’s possible is one of the few constants in motorsport.

Click on the image above to view the choice cuts from this year's Pikes Peak hillclimb, and some highlights from past events.

Bryan Campbell

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