Good Golly, Miss Molly!

Three big rigs will face off on Pikes Peak on June 29 in a ‘race to the clouds.’

Fans at the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb at the end of this month will have a third truck to cheer for when the No. 33 Sterling Hillclimb Special returns to the mountain, this time with Molly Morter behind the wheel. Morter, an off-road racer and public relations executive, will become the first woman to pilot a big rig up the big hill when she fires up No. 33, which missed the 2001 edition of America’s second oldest motor race.

Morter, the 1998 CIORA Off-Road World Champion, is rarin’ to race. “This is an opportunity of a lifetime for me,” she said. “I have always wanted to compete in the Pikes Peak race. It is every off-road racers’ dream. And competing behind the wheel of a big rig, well, you might as well do it right the first time.”

She will be join two past champs. Bruce Canepa will drive the tandem axle CFI/Kenworth T2000 and Mike Ryan, will pilot the single axle No. 77 Freightliner Unlimited SuperTruck.

Called “The Race to the Clouds,” the hill climb starts at 9,402 feet and finishes at the 14,110-feet at the summit of Pikes Peak. Motorcycles, quad-cycles, vintage autos, stock cars, trucks, SUVs and Class 8 trucks battle against the clock to reach the summit. The race course, which is located outside of Colorado Springs, Colo., features both asphalt and dirt surfaces and has no guard rails to protect drivers from cliffs of more than 1,000 feet. Three drivers have died in the race’s 85-year history, including one last year.

The big winner last year was Canepa, an automotive designer who piloted his T2000 to a new divisional record for highway-class big rigs, hitting the 14,000-foot finish line in less than 14 minutes. His new record, 13:59.96, was nearly a half minute faster than the truck’s time the year before. Kenworth engineer Mike Gilbert says the big rig should be able to cut even more time off the time this year, partly because it is lighter.

Gilbert says the truck’s biggest changes have been made in the suspension, where greater balance has been achieved. Also, engineers have managed to squeeze more power out of the truck’s Caterpillar engine. “I think we can outperform what we did last year,” Gilbert said.

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Ryan, a four-time champion, also returns with some unfinished business. Last year his truck spun out on a track slickened by rain and he didn’t finish. Ryan holds the record for all trucks, which he set in his single rear axle Freightliner in 2000. That record stands at 13:39.02.

The 2002 Pikes Peak Hill Climb, “80th Race to the Clouds,” will be held June 29 in Colorado Springs, Colo. It is the second oldest motorsports even in the country – only the Indianapolis 500 is older.

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