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Solstice GXP to climb Pike's Peak next month

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Millen To Race Pontiac Solstice GXP To The Clouds At Pikes Peak
Drifter Going For Mountain Glory
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Pontiac Solstice GXP Formula Drifting standout Rhys Millen will run the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb – The Race to the Clouds on July 21. The 14-time participant and double Hill Climb record holder will take his drifting expertise back to the mountain for another run to the clouds in the new Time Attack class.

Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is the world’s highest auto race, starting at 9,400 feet and finishing above 14,110 feet. Millen will manuever his 550 horsepower Red Bull Pontiac Solstice GXP through the 156-turn, 12.42 mile mix of dirt and pavement tract to the top of Pikes Peak. The mountain terrain is a little different surface for the Solstice and Millen who is used to the closed, tight confines of a controlled asphalt Formula Drift event. The Californian will be going for speed on the stop-watch instead of style points.

“This will be my 15th year running the Hill Climb,” Millen said. “I have won six times and hold two records. We decided to take the Pontiac Solstice to the Hill because the organizers have formed a new Time Attack class. Time Attack is becoming a very popular within the sport compact market.”

What we are doing is taking the drift form of racing back to its roots on the mountain,” Millen explains. “Drifting began on the mountain roads, we then took it to stadiums, small ovals, and wide open asphalt arenas and now it is all going back to the dirt. The same driving technique that it takes to be successful in drifting are the identical car control methods that you use to get up the Hill fast.”

Millen explains the new Time Attack class, “The Pikes Peak Hill Climb organizers have created a new class called Time Attack. This is specifically for the type of cars we use in drifting - the production based, two-wheel drive modified street car. The other classes are similar to NASCAR or open-wheel with specially built, nearly unlimited modifications to chassis, tires and suspension setups. It is nice that the organizers have taken into account the popularity of the sport-compact market and that we are welcome at Pikes Peak.”

The last time I ran there was in 2004 in a Pontiac GTO. I took a lot of what I learned at the Hill and applied it to drifting, I believe that is why we had the early success we did. The low grip surface of the hill and the way you drive in drifting events is very similar, so we had that knowledge, now we are taking it back to the hill and hopefully have an advantage from the know-how accumulated from four years of drifting competition.”

The Solstice GXP drifting car will not have to undergo many modifications to take to the Hill. The suspension settings used in drifting will translate well to the dirt and pavement mix assuring that Millen can negotiate turns such as Bottomless Pit and Ragged Edge. The challenge will be to get the 2.4-liter, Turbo ECOTECH Solstice GXP power plant to be able to maintain a strong power-curve while rapidly ascending elevation.

“The 550-horsepower motor will have to be mapped to reduce the three percent of power that you lose with every 1,000 feet of elevation, as much as 30 percent from the start to the top. The engine naturally wants to get richer because the elevation will rob air from the car. The trick is to progressively lean the motors air-to-fuel mixture to maintain a consistent power curve all the way to the top.”

“We will retain the drift suspension setup. The Hill is a low grip environment. Just like in drifting you are trying to maximize mechanical grip. You have gone past the threshold of the grip for the tire and you are now relying on the chassis to maximize what hold you have left on the road. The aerodynamics of the car stay the same, we change the attack angle of the wing to compensate for the thinner atmosphere. To attain the same amount of downforce as we get at sea level, we will need to add 50 percent more wing angle to achieve on the same result on the mountain. Drag is not an issue, because you are pretty much doing acceleration bursts from turn-to-turn.”

Rhys will follow in the tire tracks of his father, Rod Millen, who has quite a legacy on the Colorado hill. Often called "Millen’s Mountain", Dad owns the overall championship and the record for the fastest driving time up the mountain, in his 850 horsepower all-wheel-drive Toyota Celica Turbo. Rod drove up the 12.42 mile, 156-turn dirt road with a time of 10:04.06 set in 1994.

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