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Millen Eyes Pikes Peak Record

Off-road racing’s version of the four-minute mile arrives Tuesday with the 78th running of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in Colorado Springs. Hoping to play the role of Roger Bannister is Newport Beach’s Rod Millen, who will wind his way up the 156-turn, 12.42-mile dirt and road course, trying to bring an end to his 16-year quest to break the 10-minute barrier.

This could be one of the best chances for Millen, who set the course record in 1994, winning in 10 minutes 4.06 seconds.

His carbon-fiber, turbo-powered Toyota Tacoma, which generates about 1,000 horsepower at sea level, is intact. Last year, it had to be rebuilt using heavier fiberglass after it caught fire during testing six weeks before the race. Also, the Unlimited class won’t be the last one leaving the starting line. Instead, it starts at 11:30 a.m.

“The last three years, I’ve run late in the day, around 3 p.m., and it started raining at the top of the mountain,” said Millen, who is going for his fifth consecutive overall victory. “That slowed up the times.

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“Pikes Peak is a unique event. I’ve got to have a lot of confidence not only in the machine but in the road conditions to push myself as fast as I can to break the mark. It’s a 12 1/2-mile road to 14,000 feet, no guard rails, all gravel, 850 horsepower, four-wheel drive, sliding around on the road trying to get to the top of the mountain.”

Traction is critical on the course, which does have some steep drop-offs. The starting line is at 9,402 feet, the finish line is at 14,110 feet, and it’s possible to experience sun, rain, snow and sleet on the way up, Millen said.

Last year, using the slower rebuilt truck, Millen was two seconds faster over the bottom half of the course than he was when he set the record in 1994, but his 10:11.15 time was seven seconds off the record.

As always, Millen said the determining factor to break 10 minutes is Mother Nature.

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“The track conditions change all the time,” Millen said. “The road conditions will be excellent one year; the most important thing is that we’re there, prepared to take advantage of that situation. It’s a little bit of a waiting game.”

NASCAR

First-year owner/driver Robby Gordon of Orange waited all year for the road course race at Sears Point Raceway in Sonoma, figuring he could move up the Winston Cup learning curve by using his road racing expertise. Gordon, who grew up in the SCORE off-road series, went off the pavement when Rusty Wallace and Brett Bodine collided, picked up several positions and eventually led five laps before finishing ninth at the Save Mart/Kragen 350K.

“Honestly, I didn’t think twice about going to the dirt to avoid that mess,” Gordon said. “That’s just the off-road racer in me.”

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The racer in him came away with a good feeling, too.

“We realistically came here and shot for a top-10 [finish], which we got,” Gordon said. “If we can keep putting puzzle pieces together like this we’ll just get stronger.”

The only other road course on the schedule is Aug. 13 at Watkins Glen, N.Y. The other Gordon, Jeff, has six consecutive road course victories.

* NASCAR fined Scott Pruett’s crew chief, Joe Garone, $50,000 for using an illegal liquid brake cooling device during the race Sunday. It also deducted 50 driver points from Pruett and 50 owner points from Cal Wells III.

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Wells, who heads Rancho Santa Margarita-based PPI Motorsports, which has its Winston Cup shop in Hickory, N.C., said the illegal brake cooling device was nothing more than “an inoperable pump and tubing” that the team used to cool the braking system of its only road-course car during aero mapping and gear testing at Carolina Motorsports Park on June 19.

“The key components of the system, including its activation elements, were removed from the car before it was transported to Sears Point,” Wells said. “Leaving [the pump and tubing] in the car, however inoperable, was our oversight. We regret the error.”

The loss in points cost Pruett one position in the standings; he has 849 points and is 39th, directly behind Robby Gordon, who has 872.

Pruett finished 39th at Sears Point but led twice for a total of 10 laps, including his last, Lap 67, in the 112-lap race. He crashed on Lap 68 when he lost steering and braking capabilities after being hit from behind by race winner Jeff Gordon.

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The two local drivers return to Daytona for the Pepsi 400 on Saturday. Robby Gordon finished 18th and Pruett 19th at the Daytona 500.

WATER SPORTS

Katie Jenkins of La Habra finished second to Kelly Kurpil of Vero Beach, Fla., in Pro Women Runabout on Sunday at the International Jet Sports Boating Assn. Watercross Nationals in San Diego.

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If you have an item or idea for the motor racing report, you can fax us at (714)966-5663 or e-mail us at martin.henderson@latimes.com


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