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Racer Seeks to Reclaim Family Legacy in Pikes Peak Hill Climb

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Rendering of the Hyundai Genesis PM580 that Rhys Millen will drive in the Pikes Peak Hill Climb in June.
The Hyundai Genesis PM580 looks capable of grinding out 24 hours at Le Mans or Daytona — and, given a few modifications, it probably could — but its mettle will instead be tested over just 10 minutes on Colorado’s Pikes Peak. There, the purpose-built machine will confront notoriously capricious weather, blacktop yielding to rutted gravel, vertiginous precipices and thinning atmosphere as it revs toward the checkered flag waving from the mountain’s 14,110-foot summit. No country for old coolant.

Unveiled late last month, the PM580 was built explicitly to run the 88th Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, scheduled for June 27. The climb is singular among races, as drivers ascend the peak one at a time, and their success is contingent on final time, not wheel-to-wheel racing. The PM580 will compete in the Unlimited class, the least restrictive of the 11 total.

Hyundai’s racer carries a whiff of destiny. Piloting the car is the New Zealander Rhys Millen — racer, stuntman, scion of the Millen Racing dynasty and all-around nervy guy. He will attempt to go sub-10 minutes, thereby breaking the Unlimited-class record of 10:01.41 set by Nobuhiro Tajima in 2007, which displaced a 10:04.06 run by Millen’s father, Rod Millen, dating to 1994. Rhys Millen’s imminent attempt has been framed by both Hyundai and his team’s other major sponsor, Red Bull, as a quest to restore the family name.

The PM580 also fits smartly within Hyundai’s own redemption narrative. The Korean automaker, once roundly criticized for its lackluster product line, has in recent years experienced a string of commercial successes, including the Genesis Coupe, from which the PM580 draws its name but little else.

“It’s not what you’d call a silhouette vehicle,” the younger Millen, reached in Los Angeles, deadpanned discussing his PM580, which makes no effort to resemble its street-legal namesake. “But we’re basically using the same engine package as we did for the drifting championship car last year; we’ve just stroked the displacement from 3.8 to 4.1 liters.”

That Lambda turbocharged V-6 engine generates up to 750 horsepower and fits within a tubular frame chassis, which is wrapped in bespoke carbon bodywork. The car allows torque to be split via an active center differential, which optimizes power delivery on the mountain’s variable surfaces. The PM580 weighs 1,850 pounds, which Mr. Millen sees as a distinct advantage over Mr. Tajima’s racer.

“Even though he’s got 850 horsepower to our 750, his car weighs around 2,400 pounds,” he said of Mr. Tajima’s Suzuki XL7. “Plus, he’s running some pretty big tires, 285×60x18, whereas ours are 275×40x17.

“And our aerodynamics package is far superior,” Mr. Millen said. “Our rear wing can be actively positioned and will respond to inputs like drag, yaw and lift instantaneously.”

Undoubtedly, the PM580 will be the most technologically advanced car on the hill. As a Pikes veteran, however, Mr. Millen has the perspective to know that his record, should he succeed, will likely not stand as long as his father’s did — or even Mr. Tajima’s.

“I’ve competed there since 1992 and have seen the road go from unpaved to mostly paved,” Mr. Millen said. Responding to hazardous road erosion, the City of Colorado Springs expects the entire race route to be paved by 2012, forever altering the Hill Climb’s character and with it, the distinctive tools that all successful cars (and drivers) must possess to compete there.

For now, he’ll revel in the course and his car’s novelty. “It’s an environment unlike any other,” he said. “No limits on weight, on tires, on power — it’s as unique a race as any.”

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