King of the Mountain

Amidst a backdrop as dramatic and intimidating as driving gets, Bruce Canepa set a record for tandem rear-axle trucks at the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb June 30.

Canepa, an automotive designer, piloted the Contract Freighters Inc.- and Kenworth-sponsored T-2000 to speeds exceeding 80 mph, deftly handling the course’s 156 switchback turns and nearly 5,000 feet of elevation change. The record in the tandem-rear-axle division, 13:59.96, was nearly a half-minute faster than the truck’s time last year. Before the race, Kenworth said it shaved more than 25 seconds off the truck’s practice runs through experimental composite components, a new transmission, and increased horsepower and torque.

Canepa did not quite match Mike Ryan’s 2000 Hill Climb record for big rigs. That record was set in a single-rear-axle Freightliner and still stands, at 13:39.02.

The PPIHC starts at 9,402 feet and finishes at the 14,110-foot summit of the Colorado mountain. The racecourse has asphalt and dirt surfaces with no guardrails to protect drivers from cliffs of more than 1,000 feet. Motorcycles, quad-cycles, stock cars, trucks and Class 8 rigs battle against the clock to reach the summit.

In the Kenworth pits after the race, Canepa said this year’s time was a result of more power, a better transmission and nearly 1,400 fewer pounds. The ZF 5HP500 Ecomat automatic transmission was lighter and better on the fly than the one Kenworth used last year, Canepa said.

Ryan, the only other big rig driver to race the Peak this year, did not finish. Ryan was on pace to break his record, but spun out on a rain-soaked turn a third of the way up the track. In practice runs on the track, the rig hit speeds of more than 96 mph.

Ryan’s attempt at the Peak was disappointing because the truck performed perfectly, he said. Rain sped up the pebbled surface but made certain sections slicker than usual. It was Ryan’s first failure at the PPIHC, where he has three records. After the race, he joked that he was really trying to get out of the way of an endangered spotted owl.

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