COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — Japan's Nobuhiro Tajima said Friday he believes he can break through the elusive 10-minute barrier at the "Race to the Clouds" in Colorado, the nation's second-oldest auto race behind the Indianapolis 500.
Tajima will aim for a fifth consecutive win at the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb on Sunday. But he said establishing a new course record and finishing with a time under 10 minutes is more on his mind than just coming in first.
"You always want to win and continue to win," he said after his Friday morning qualifying run. "Getting the course record and getting the time under 10 minutes is more important to me right now."
No one has completed the course in under 10 minutes in the 87 previous runnings of the race, which follows a 12.42-mile course from mile marker seven on Pikes Peak Highway to the top of the 14,110-foot mountain.
Drivers will maneuver their way through 156 turns on paved and gravel roads and climb 4,721 feet during the race.
Tajima set the course record in 2007 with a time of 10:01.408.
A year ago, slowed by loose track, he finished in 10:15:368. This year, Tajima and his crew have changed from an 18-inch tire to a 20-inch tire to deal with the gravel and asphalt road at the top of the mountain.
Tajima's confidence was further fueled by his 5.3-mile qualifying run on Friday, which he covered in 4.28 minutes.
"That's a qualifying record," Tajima said. "I'm excited about that, but I know it's Sunday that matters most."
Several of his strongest challengers agree that the record qualifying time should translate to Tajima breaking the 10-minute barrier on the full 12.42-mile course.
"I would have been very skeptical up until seeing the bottom section," Rhys Millen said. "After running it today and seeing Tajima's time, I think he is very capable of breaking 10 minutes here."
Millen will make his first appearance in the Unlimited Division, the most competitive grouping, which Tajima has dominated in recent years. He brings a new approach to the division with his Hyundai Genesis Coupe.
"We are really showcasing the performance of a Hyundai engine," Millen said. "It is a function what is going to be fast up here in the future."
The same can be said about him returning the Unlimited Division record to the Millen family. His father, Rod, raced to a then record 10:04.06 in 1994.
"I don't want to break the record for my father," the younger Millen said. "I'm here to race the mountain."