The Red Bull Pontiac Solstice GXP and Rhys Millen claimed the first ever Time Attack title at the 85th Annual Pikes Peak International Hill Climb Saturday July 21st. It was Millen’s seventh overall title in 15 trips to the Hill Climb, and his third record in three different divisions.
Naturally, Millen was pleased, but content he was not. While thrilled with the performance of the Pontiac Solstice, he was disappointed in the road conditions.
“After four years of being gone, it’s great to come up here and pull off a victory,” Millen said. “It’s just an amazing car to drive. The handling, the braking, the power, I couldn’t have asked for a better ride today, I just didn’t get the road that I was looking for. That’s the challenge of Pikes Peak. Although we set the division record, beat quite comfortably the two-wheel drive cars, and surprisingly enough the four-wheel drive cars, it just still doesn’t feel like a win.”
Millen went into the race with a goal of 11:35 to 11:45 over the 12.4 mile course. What he got was a time of 12:45.153, nearly four seconds faster than his nearest competitor.
“When you are involved in motor sport and you have the highs and lows of racing, and you feel that you had a good result, and you don’t meet your own personal expectations, it’s just not 100 percent satisfaction,” he said. “But overall, the car, the effort the team put in, it was just amazing.”
“We left the starting line at 153 degrees water temperature, and finished at the top with 168 degrees water temperature. The crew, the GM Racing folks who helped develop some of the cooling systems, and chose to use the E85 fuel, that’s the reason the car was so fast today.”
Millen posted the fastest times at all three check points leading up to the finish. He ran 1:55.189 to the Halfway Picnic Ground (the only Time Attack vehicle under two minutes), 5:38.846 to Glen Cove and 8:42.655 through the 16-mile mark.
At the first checkpoint, understandably, Millen felt like he was in for a great run.
“I really did,” he said. “That checkpoint is right as you go through Picnic Ground straightaway, right as the pavement finishes and it turns to dirt. At that point I was just like, ‘This thing is flying, this is going to be an incredible time.’”
“I’ve known all week we were going fast at Picnic Ground, but in all the vehicles that are comparable to the Solstice GXP, we’ve only hit speeds of 97 miles and hour. I’ve never done over 100 miles an hour on that straightaway, and today we pulled 112 miles an hour. That just goes to show the power and performance of the engine, and how much grip we had on the pavement.”
The next section, leading into Glen Cove, is where Millen said he thinks he lost his goal.
“The next corner is where you hit the dirt, and it is just back pedaling to go forward,” he said. “You don’t want to shift down, because it was going to take so long to shift back up. We did a 5:38 today over that section. In practice, in two runs, we did a 5:32. Again, that just shows that the road wasn’t there. I never made a mistake the whole run. To be pushing as hard as I was in that little car, and still be six seconds slower, just goes to show how loose the road was today.”
But once back on pavement, the Pontiac Solstice took off again.
“Once we got into the Glen Cove split, we were back onto pavement, and the thing was a rocket ship again,” Millen said. “It ate up the Ws faster than any car I’ve been in up there. The power just never dropped off. It was unbelievable.
“That climb will typically put a car into heat soak because you have high RPM, short bursts, almost like drag racing corner to corner to corner,” he explained. “Every car I’ve ever run up there has overheated, but today I’m looking at the gauge and I’m thinking, ‘Is that real? Is it really staying that cool,’ and it just performed really, really well.”
Despite the win and the new record, it was a bittersweet day for Millen. For 13 years, his father Rod Millen has held the overall record on the mountain, a time of 10:04.06 set in 1994. But on this day, Tajima (Monster) Nobihuro went three seconds faster, finishing in just over 10:01.
“Dad’s record stood for 13 years, it was set on an all dirt road, and this road is now 50 to 60 percent paved,” Millen said. “It should be broken; it should have been broken five years ago. To have it broken today, on a day that we set a record, just really puts me in a mindset that I want to come back and put that record back in the Millen name.”
So does the younger Millen intend to return to the mountain in 2008? He sure hopes to.
“This was an event I wanted to do, because I love the thrill of riding this road and pushing the limits,” he said. “It installs in people that the 10 minute barrier can be broken. For 13 years now, with my father’s record standing, people just couldn’t get close to it. And now that Tajima has done this, this might bring the excitement back to this event that this event has been looking for.
“It sure puts me in a position to want to present to my sponsors that I’m associated with, ‘hey guys, I can do this,’ and I’m confident we can do it,” he added. “The engine we have in the Solstice is capable of making a ton more power. The people within GM Racing, and other associates that they have, along with the people in my father’s company, who I’m sure would help me, we have the right formula to come back and put that record in the Millen name.”
Born in New Zealand, Rhys has a long history of racing successes. Before entering Drifting competition, he was a top rally driver in the U.S., becoming the first driver backed by a car manufacturer (General Motors) in 2004. He has moved into top champion position in drifting campaigning a GTO and now a Solstice.
Thanks to Pontiac Registry.