Interview: Rhys Millen Talks Pikes Peak 2013

Motorsports driver Rhys Millen practices for the 2013 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in Colorado
© Garth Milan/Red Bull Content Pool

The Kiwi driver knows a thing or two about winning the US's second-oldest automobile race.

Most of the talk surrounding the 91st running of the annual Pikes Peak International Hill Climb has focused on Sébastien Loeb, the nine-time World Rally Champion who’ll be blasting his way up the 12.42-mile, 156-turn course for the first time. He’ll do it in a massively-winged Peugeot 208 T16, an all-wheel-drive rallycross car with a rear-mounted twin-turbo V-6 that produces 875 horsepower at sea level. On all fronts, it’s a hugely impressive effort with an F1 level of execution.

But let’s not forget about Rhys Millen. The talented 40-year-old with the Kiwi accent is, after all, the fastest racer ever up the 14,110-foot mountain, driving his Red Bull-sponsored Hyundai Genesis Coupe to a record run of 9 minutes, 46.164 seconds last year, the first time the whole course was fully paved. What’s more, Rhys -- who came of age on the mountain and knows the course as well as anybody -- has won his class there a staggering 10 times.

The day before Rhys and crew headed back to Colorado to make final preparations for the June 30 race, we managed to catch up with him for a brief chat.

redbull.com: Tell us about your new car.

Rhys Millen: It’s the Hyundai RMR PM580T, and it’s based on a 2006 Crawford Daytona Prototype. My previous Pikes Peak car from 2011 was built around a Weismann all-wheel-drive gearbox that had multiple issues. To start over with that chassis would’ve cost a lot of money, so it was cheaper to find a rolling chassis that already existed. Given the time and budget, we couldn’t build the 4WD car we wanted so we chose to build it as a 2WD car.

What’s the engine?

A turbocharged 4.1-liter Hyundai V-6, the same as last year (watch the 2012 video above). We’ve gone to a larger turbo because of the different weight distribution. The new car has a mid-engine, which puts more grip on the rear tires. And we’re running more boost. Compared to last year, we’re making an extra 150 to 200 horsepower. At sea level, my car puts out around 895 horsepower.

How about the gearbox?

It’s an Xtrac transaxle, basically what came with the car. We re-geared it for the terminal velocity we’ll see on the mountain. We’ll see 145 mph at the Picnic Ground.

What does your car weigh?

It’s a little heavier than we would have liked. It’s right around 2,200 lb. The larger oil coolers, intercoolers and turbocharger added nearly 80 lb. of weight. We also had to re-gear the car. The engine isn’t really making power until 5,000 rpm now, whereas before it was starting to pull at 3,800 rpm. Our new gears arrive tomorrow.

Portrait of Rhys Millen after racing at Serra do Rio do Rastro in Brazil, 11th November 2010
Rhys Millen - Serra do Rio do Rastro Brazil 2010© Bruno Terena/Red Bull Content Pool

Will you be faster than last year?

I’m confident we’ll set a time that’s 30-plus seconds better. And there’s potential to break into the eights. Our car is very efficient and it’s running very well. Unfortunately, our stiffest competition is from my Red Bull teammate, Sébastien Loeb in the Peugeot. Their effort is phenomenal, just awesome.

Peugeot is not doing Le Mans this year, so Peugeot Sport is focused on doing everything it can with a seemingly unlimited budget in the Unlimited class. They’ve brought some 40 staff to Pikes Peak. I think their hotel budget is more than my total budget! Michelin is right there with them, with multiple sets of tires, tire warmers, different compounds, everything. They’re already the class of the field.

In your test at Pikes last week, was Loeb significantly quicker than you?

Yes.

By how much?

Well, a couple of years ago, a good time to the halfway point was around five minutes. Loeb did a 3:26 last week. We did a 3:45.

So, is Loeb beatable?

If we both have clean runs and no mechanical issues? No. But we will get closer to Loeb’s time on race day. We know the challenge. We’re prepared for the things that we need to do on race day.

© Marcelo Maragni/Red Bull Content Pool

How’s your dad, former Pikes Peak record holder Rod Millen, doing in the electric car?

He’s with the TMG Team, the group that ran the Toyota F1 program in Europe. They won their class last year and now have improved the aero and reduced the weight of their car. My dad’s really happy with the package. They’ve achieved a lot of speed and are doing very well. But watch Greg Tracy in the new two-motor Mitsubishi, which has 1,400 foot-pounds of torque. He’s a talented racer, and he’s 11 seconds quicker than my dad right now to the halfway point.

Will electric cars break the 10-minute barrier this year?

Yes, no problem. I’d say that Greg and my father will be around the 9:20 to 9:40 range.

What will the winning overall time be this year, assuming good weather?

I’m going to say 8:25.

Lastly, how do you feel about today’s paved course versus the all-dirt road of many years ago?

I don’t like it as much now. The thrill of driving the road is there, but the thrill of the car control and driving the car on the road is different, gone. You used to be able to hook a wheel on the inside edge of a turn, or have a wheel drop off the cliff’s edge. It required more commitment at greater slip angles to carry speed on that road. You really needed to know the road to carry all that speed. That was the advantage all the veterans had. Because the road is now all paved, newer drivers come up to speed more quickly -- it’s a point-and-squirt sort of thing.

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