Basalt driver ready to take on Pikes Peak | AspenTimes.com

Basalt driver ready to take on Pikes Peak

Jon MaletzThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado

Jay Bonvouloir/Special to The Aspen TimesBasalt's Paul Dallenbach speeds up Pikes Peak Highway on Wednesday during training for Sunday's Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.

BASALT – Paul Dallenbach’s legacy in the “Race to the Clouds” is secured.He has braved the elements. He has overcome all obstacles to finish first three times at the famed Pikes Peak International Hill Climb – the country’s second-oldest motor sports race behind the Indianapolis 500.Why, then, would the 43-year-old willingly return, year after year, to compete in one of the word’s most challenging events? Participants routinely confront changing road and weather conditions on the 12.42-mile course, which begins at 9,390 feet, finishes at the 14,110-foot summit and includes 156 nerve-testing turns.Dallenbach pauses while formulating a response.”I ask myself when I’m completely exhausted why I race here every year,” Dallenbach said Friday, two days before he and others fire up their engines for the event’s 88th installment.”It’s a unique race, a one-of-a-kind race. It’s my Indy 500. … It’s almost like a drug, something that keeps bringing me back.”Dallenbach has been presented with scores of challenges in 15 appearances in Colorado Springs since 1991, he said. This week has been no exception. His engine blew out Tuesday, the first day of training, and had to be replaced with the one Dallenbach used in last year’s hill climb. Consequently, his car will drop in horsepower from 850 to 720. Thursday, Dallenbach missed a practice session while he and his crew worked to repair a brake issue.”This car is so complicated, and every part is handmade. There are no spare parts,” he said. They finished at 1 a.m. Friday, then were out on the course about three hours later to take two abbreviated runs.”There are some years we come here and don’t have any problems, and there are some years when we have lots of little problems. It’s par for the course,” said Dallenbach, who last won in 2003. “It’s a little frustrating. … It’s tough doing this once a year with the car and working out all the details in such little time.”Luckily, with my experience, I don’t need a lot of practice. … I can only do whatever the car and the road is going to give me. Mistakes can be made. We’re not really the favorite this year, and that’s a nice position to be in.”Dallenbach and the field will likely be chasing Japan’s Nobuhiro Tajima, who is aiming for a fifth consecutive win – and gunning to become the first driver to finish in less than 10 minutes. Tajima set a course-record time of 10 minutes, 1.408 seconds in 2007. Dallenbach expects that mark to fall Sunday. He believes he might just have the car to challenge it, too.”We didn’t run up top [during training Friday], which they said was loose, but the bottom part has developed a pretty hard surface, which suits our car,” he added. “Despite having down horsepower, the car handled great. I think that’s the most important thing, because you can hustle the car a little more and make up a little time.”Dallenbach is hoping to resolve some lingering timing issues during a practice session today at Pikes Peak International Raceway in Fountain. Sunday, he hopes to make his one shot count.”There’s a little bit of [anxiety and excitement right now.] It takes a lot of work getting to this point … so it’s almost like a relief,” Dallenbach said. “It’s out there for the taking, but you never can tell until you’re on that road.”Hopefully we can pull of an upset.”jmaletz@aspentimes.com