Basalt brothers go 1-2 at Pikes Peak Uphill
The Pikes Peak Uphill is the second-oldest motor sports event in the United States, and arguably the most unpredictable.On Saturday, for the second time in three years, race organizers decided to shorten the 12.42-mile course for half the field after rain, then snow showers socked in the top of the 14,110-foot peak in the afternoon.The deteriorating weather ensured for the 12th year that no one would set a new record on the technical dirt and gravel track.The rain and snow didn’t ruin a near-perfect day for Basalt natives Wally and Paul Dallenbach.Wally, 43, won his first uphill title in the open wheel class after roaring up the shortened nine-mile track in 8 minutes, 22 seconds. Paul, 39, dumped precious seconds on the final turn of the course, but still finished second in 8:24. “I had him by seven seconds to the five-mile mark and then I screwed up,” said Paul, a three-time open-wheel champion at Pikes Peak. “I had to stop the car and get it turned and then going again. I really thought that I’d lost by a minute, so I was really upset when I found out I only lost by a second and a half. I threw it all away on that last corner.”
The 1-2 finish erased the bad memories from last year, when both failed to finish because of mechanical issues. Those results tested the patience of the duo’s main sponsor, Vortex Valve, Paul said.”This year going 1-2 for our sponsor was really a big deal for him because he stuck with us,” Paul said. “We had a great time this year, and next year we’re going to build new cars. We want to build a car that can take the overall record and win overall.”Paul split the overall title in 2004, and won it outright in 2003 and 1993. Japanese driver Nubohiro Tajima and Woodland Park’s Leonard Vahsholtz split the overall title this year.Vahsholtz, who ran in the morning, won the open class with a time of 12:06 on a full course; Tajima earned his fourth win in the unlimited class with a time 7:38 on his shortened run.Tajima, the president of Suzuki Sport Co., told the Rocky Mountain News that he was only “50 percent happy” with his result. His main objective on Saturday was to try to break the 10-minute barrier, and felt he had the car to do it – had the weather cooperated. The Japanese driver brought a $1 million, 1,000-horsepower, four-wheel-drive bullet to this year’s “Race to the Clouds.”New Zealand’s Rod Millen owns the standing course record of 10 minutes, 4 seconds – a mark he set in 1994.
While Tajima’s car was the fastest on paper this year, Paul Dallenbach noted that the 750-horsepower, two-wheel-drive cars he and his brother raced were also capable of breaking the 10-minute mark.Paul’s fastest full run ever at Pikes Peak was 10 minutes, 26 seconds. On Saturday, both brothers were nearly as fast as Tajima on the lower two-thirds of the shortened course before they hit the muddy top section.”We just got killed in the mud,” Paul said. “Our cars are capable of winning the overall. We probably would have had a shot if it didn’t rain. On paper, he should kill us. But on a dry road, it’s actually pretty close. I’ve actually beat him twice before head to head. It just depends on the roads.”The younger Dallenbach said Millen’s mark came when the road up to the peak was in better condition. The full 12.4-mile course shifts from pavement to gravel and features 156 turns – all without guardrails. Drivers reach speeds in excess of 100 mph on some of the course’s straightaways.”Every year that we go there, it’s about trying to break the record,” Paul said. “That’s the buzz around the thing. But since 1994 the road hasn’t been nearly as good. Even though they’ve added pavement in certain sections, it’s still not as fast. You’ve got to have the perfect weather conditions for it to happen.
“We thought earlier in the week that it was going to work because they put down [magnesium] chloride to keep the dust down and that really creates a hard road. Our practice times were fast, and then the weather came in and it was snowing on top of the hill. It just kind of threw that all out the window.”Paul added that no driver breaking the record this year wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. It only ensures that a strong field will be back next summer, after another year of work on their respective cars, to make a run at the 10-minute mark.Paul said he and his brother have already been talking about the cars they plan to bring to Pikes Peak next year.”The Japanese guy is coming back next year,” Paul said. “I know of two other guys who are building cars who are hoping to come back and break the record. We’ll have new cars next year, too.”The 84th running of the Pikes Peak Uphill will air on the Outdoor Channel at 11 a.m. on Sept. 23 The Rocky Mountain News contributed to this story.Nate Peterson’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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