The 2013 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb (PPIHC) is gearing up for an amazing race this Sunday with the likes of World Rally Champion Sebastian Loeb taking on current record holder Rhys Millen.

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CarAdvice has travelled more than 20 hours from Sydney to be in Manitou Springs in Colorado USA, a small town of 5,000 locals, situated about 90 minutes drive from Denver and just down the road from Pikes Peak.

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The PPIHC, sometimes referred to as the “race to the clouds” is an internationally recognised racing event that has captured the imagination of motor sport fans worldwide.

The event has been running since 1916, but it really hit the limelight in 1989 when French director Jean-Louis Mourey released a short film called Climb Dance (embedded below), which showcased Finnish former World Rally Champion Ari Vatanen winning the event in his turbocharged Peugeot 405 T16 in a record-breaking time.

But despite its international fame, most locals we encountered in Manitou springs have little knowledge of the event. The organisers admit the race now has more fame in Europe than in America.

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Up until two years ago the 19.99km track was made up of tarmac and dirt, but due to environmental reasons the organisers have been forced to pave the road. The Pikes Peak hill climb starts at 1,440m above sea level and finishes a further 2860m higher, at 4,300m. This presents challenges to the competing car’s engines, which lose roughly three percent of their power per 300m above seas level (due to atmospheric pressures).

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This means that by the time the cars get near the top, they are missing roughly 1/3 of their engine power but most cars here are heavily modified to deal with the drop in oxygen. The electric cars benefit the most, as they face no such issues.

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The climb consists of 156 turns, most of which are on the edge of vast cliffs (watch Climb Dance to see for yourself) so for those that are afraid of heights, it can only be described as a nightmare.

This year Peugeot has sent in its best driver, nine-time WRC champion Sebastian Loeb, piloting what many here are referring to as a Formula 1 car with a car-like shell. The Peugeot 208 T16 is essentially an old LeMans LMP1 racecar put inside a very crude 208 shell.

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Weighing 875kg and powered by a 652kW twin-turbo 3.2-litre V6, the four-wheel drive Peugeot 208 T16 can accelerate from 0-100km/h in 1.8 seconds and reach 200km/h in 4.8 seconds. That makes it faster than a modern day Formula One car and even the Bugatti Veyron.

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It’s here for one reason and one reason only, to set a new world record that will stand the test of time.

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The man that wants to stop Leob is Hyundai’s Rhys Millen, who last year set the fastest time of 9:46.164. His car is the Hyundai RMR PM580-T, which makes use of a Daytona prototype chassis that is powered by a once naturally-aspirated 3.8-litre V6, now forced to be a 4.1-litre.

It has what many would call an incredibly oversized Garrett turbocharger and plenty of modifications to help it produce about 597kW. Power is pushed to the rear-wheels via a sequential six-speed gearbox (using a clutch for launch).

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CarAdvice caught up with Rhys Millen after practice today and asked him what he thought of Peugeot’s efforts.

“The sheer quantity of dollars thrown at their effort has never been seen before and to parallel that effort I would have to walk into Hyundai and say I want to build a 4WD car and develop it, I need to ask for five million dollars and that ain’t gonna happen” Millen said.

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Millen admitted that beating Leob in his “four-wheel drive Formula One” car would be basically impossible.

“Not on this road, not in this car. If they have a good run on Sunday you will never see that record fall again.”

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Sebastian Loeb has been in Pikes Peak for the last month, practicing and learning the mountain over and over again. Rumour has it that Peugeot is expecting a time in the low to mid 8s, which would be the fastest record in history and one that is likely to remain unbeaten for some time.

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Nonetheless, the beauty of this event is so much more than just about the times. It’s one of the last remaining high-grade race events that still feels like an underground meet. It’s almost as if it’s deliberately low key and those that make the effort to attend are the purest of motor sport enthusiasts.

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We left our hotel at 3am this morning to get up the mountain before the road was shut for racing at 4am. With darkness all around and the temperature around 8 degrees, the competition cars kept coming up the mountain before practice got underway at 6am.

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The atmosphere is electric, the view is spectacular and the sound is heavenly. This is the sort of race you can bring your dog to. It's certainly not for everyone, in fact, it’s so unpolished (in a good way) that one can easily walk across the live track at any time. Photographers can stand anywhere, any time. It’s a good reminder of the Group B rally cars of the 1980s.

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Red Bull is here sponsoring both the Hyundai and Peugeot teams, with the aim of making “climb dance 2” to celebrate Loeb’s expected record-breaking time. The high-profile nature of this year’s race has really put Pikes Peak hill climb on the international motorsport map, though the locals certainly seem blissfully unaware.

CarAdvice is here for the duration of the event, check back daily for more news and updates.

Check out the photo gallery of 100+ photos from practise today.

Pikes Peak International Hill Climb racing classes 

  • Unlimited – "Anything Goes"
  • Open Wheel – The traditional Pikes Peak race car.
  • Mini Sprint – 3.6L naturally aspirated engines or smaller in open wheel category
  • Super Stock Car – Traditional tube-frame stock cars. Must be less than 10 years old.
  • Pro Trucks – Purpose-built tube-frame off-road pickups and SUVs.
  • Pikes Peak Open – Cars or trucks that look like a stock vehicle from the outside, but retain little of the original design - this includes the Peugeot 206 T16 and Hyundai RMR PM580-T
  • Time Attack 4wd – Production based AWD or 4wd vehicles
  • Time Attack 2wd – Production based 2wd vehicles.
  • HPSS (High Performance Showroom Stock) – These are stock performance vehicles with upgraded safety features.
  • Exhibition Car/Truck – Cars and trucks that don't fit into standard categories. Often these categories feature advances in alternative fuels or technologies.
  • Vintage (RMVR) – New category for 2008
  • Vintage Modified (RMVR Modified)
  • Electric