TOYOTA AND MILLEN DO IT IN THE DIRT
by Larry Roberts
August, 07, 1998
The press release that came to our motorsports desk read: "Rod Millen Wins Pikes Peak in Toyota Tacoma Truck."
If you're not one of those dedicated motorsports aficionados that follow the many forms of auto racing, you might be lead into thinking that someone named Millen took his workaday Toyota up Pikes Peak in Colorado and got some kind of prize for it.
Not so. The Toyota pickup that New Zealand emigre Rod Millen drove up that famous mountainside on the 4th of July is closer to a Grand Prix car than it is to the family's multipurpose second "car" that Dad drives to work. And Millen did the run in just under the magical 10-minute mark that has alluded competitors for many years. The "track" is actually the 12.42 mile switchback gravel road that's the only route to the top of the famous mountain.
The annual charge up Pikes Peak has been going on more-or-less uninterrupted since 1911 and in the past couple of decades it's evolved into a cross between a gathering and picnic for Pikes Peak regulars and a no-holds-barred, bare-knuckles slugs between some high-powered international race teams. At one time, Peugeot, Audi and Renault had it on their "Killer B" international rally program.
But that was a while ago and now the field is left to Millen and a few other hot-shoes. But lest you think that Millen's efforts come from burning the midnight oil in a corner of the garage at his humble home in Southern California, be aware that his racing efforts on behalf of Toyota are underwritten by that company and have been for several years. The Millen Tacoma is in reality a tube-frame race car that features a specially-built off-road racing suspension and a Toyota-based racing engine that is turbocharged to put out several times its original horsepower. His various Toyota-based racers have been the cars to beat at the hillclimb and his Celica-based racer of 1997 was actually faster up Pikes Peak than his current mount.
Millen's "humble" garage in Huntington Beach, California, is actually an ultra-modern race preparation facility that builds everything from experimental combat vehicles for the U.S. Department of Defense to modified street-racing Toyota Supras for local gearheads. And while his association with Toyota goes back several decades (he drove Toyota pickups in the now-defunct Mickey Thompson stadium racing series in the early '90s and dominated in its last three seasons) his plant regularly does modifications on many other brands of vehicles, most of which are Japanese.
His company also has side businesses that build and sell specialized parts like add-on body aerodynamic kits for private customers and even apparel that carries the Millen Motorsports corporate logo.
At the moment, Rod Millen and his Toyota specials are the unabashed masters of Pikes Peak, but there are a couple of challengers on the horizon. Nobuhiro Iwata came over from Iwata, Japan and put his equally highly modified Suzuki Sidekick in second place in the Unlimited class a scant 25 seconds behind Millen's winning time of 10:07.70.
And if Suzuki, a name not normally associated with hill climbs and motorsports, can come that close to a factory Toyota effort, how long will it take Nissan, Honda, Subaru and the rest to throw their corporate hats into that Colorado ring.