Pikes Peak,
climb every mountain

Climb every mountain 01

Heading for the hills
Last year, with the help of Pirelli tyres, Bentley’s Bentayga confirmed its status as the fastest SUV in the world by breaking the SUV record at the Pikes Peak Hillclimb in Colorado.

For those not familiar with Pikes Peak, it’s actually the second-oldest motorsport event in all of the United States, beaten only by the Indy 500, and the world’s ultimate hillclimb.

Known as the ‘Race to the Clouds’ for self-explanatory reasons, it consists of a 19.99-kilometre climb to the summit of Pikes Peak, taking in more than 156 corners and an elevation change of 1440 metres. The vertiginous road to the top used to consist entirely of gravel, but over the years it has been progressively asphalted – which means that it’s now become even faster. The challenge is so epic that in 1989 there was an award-winning film made about it, Climb Dance, starring Ari Vatanen and the Peugeot 405T16. Check it out here.

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Crossing continents
Like the Bentayga that came before it, the Bentley Continental GT that’s set to take on Pikes Peak at the end of June is almost entirely standard, with the addition only of safety equipment as well as a plumbed-in oxygen feed so that the driver doesn’t get altitude sickness.

At the wheel will be Rhys Millen (who also piloted the Bentayga last year): an American with a strong track record at Pikes Peak. His luminous green Bentley – a nod to the traditional British Racing Green of times past – will carry the number 100 on the grille, as this year Bentley marks its 100th anniversary.

And there would be no better way to celebrate this milestone than by scampering up the peak faster than 10m26.9s: the current production car record that Millen has to beat, set by a Porsche 991 Turbo S five years ago. 

If he succeeds – and this is far from a foregone conclusion, despite the Bentley Continental GT’s 626 horsepower – the British company (and Pirelli) will be the holders of both the production car and SUV records at Pikes Peak. By way of comparison, the Bentayga’s record time last year was 10m49.9s: an average speed of 107kph, which beat the previous SUV record by almost two minutes. There’s a lot of expectation to live up to.

Climb every mountain 03

Aiming for the top
“We were able to learn a lot from our experience at Pikes Peak last year,” says Bentley’s motorsport director Brian Gush, who also oversees the Bentley Continental GT3s that run on Pirelli competition tyres in the various Blancpain GT series all over the world. 

“We’ve applied that knowledge to our preparations this time round, and we’re proud to demonstrate the Continental GT’s breadth of abilities on a global stage.”

The actual Pikes Peak competition is preceded by several practice runs on parts of the mountain during the weeks before, but when it comes down to it there’s just a single run that counts over the course as a whole. It’s the sort of one-shot pressure that’s hard to imagine.

“You have to be calm, be focussed, and process everything that you have to,” says Rhys Millen, the son of five-time Pikes Peak champion Rod Millen.

He makes it sound easy. But Pikes Peak is one of the last epic challenges left in motorsport.

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