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Suzuki Takes Win at Pike’s Peak and Sets Record

American Suzuki at the Pike’s Peak International Hill Climb

Suzuki Takes Win at Pike’s Peak and Sets Record -Junior

Colorado Springs, CO.—Suzuki rookie driver Yutaka “Genius” Awazuhara deftly maneuvered his Grand Vitara Special through 156 turns while climbing more than 4000 feet along the 12.42 mile course to the top of Pike’s Peak in a time of 11:01:77 to win the Unlimited Class on Saturday, June 30.  Suzuki veteran driver Nobuhiro “Monster” Tajima set a new race record for the fastest speed recorded on the mountain course as he passed the mid-course checkpoint at 132.6 mph, breaking the record set moments before when Awazuhara passed the checkpoint at 121.9 mph.

“I am happy to win the Pikes Peak race and honored by the applause of all of the Suzuki supporters who came from both Japan and the United States to see this challenging race,” said Awazuhara.  “The car ran very fast and handled well.”

The practice week preceding the race was marked by joy, relief and unexpected grief.  Tajima’s Aerio Special recorded lightning fast speeds during the three practice days during which each driver took opportunity to test a third of the course each day. 

Adding Tajima’s best times from the three different sections put him at 10:10—well within striking distance Rod Millan’s course record of 10:04:06.  This was the cause of great hope within Team Suzuki since Tajima had been purposely taking the course with extra caution and had dialed back the turbo-charger on his car to produce only 685 hp out of a possible 1000 hp. 

“We are running very fast and have our engine and transmission ready for the race,” said Tajima after Tuesday’s test session.  “We are mostly testing our new BF Goodrich tires and they are very good.”

During Wednesday’s test session on the upper third of the course, Awazuhara made a mistake that could have ended his career.  Miss-reading a corner at 108 mph, Awazuhara rolled his car leaving the Grand Vitara Special on its roof, just feet from a cliff.  ESPN’s film crew helped Awazuhara out of the smoking car minutes before course officials arrived on the scene.   Awazuhara was seen shaking his head in disbelief as he surveyed the damage and the close proximity with which his car came to rest to the cliff’s edge.  Awazuhara spent the rest of the day and most of the night assisting his crew in repairing the damage that was done to the body and suspension in preparation for Thursday’s qualifying run.

“Although I am a highly experienced driver, I am still new to the Pike’s Peak course and have much to learn,” said the 12 time Japan Dirt Trial Champion.  “The car has a lot of power and the course is not forgiving of mistakes.”

On Thursday morning, during stock car qualifying, tragedy struck as veteran driver Chandler Bruning was killed when his Chevrolet Monte Carlo lifted out of turn three propelling the car into the forest.  Bruning was killed upon impact.

Upon hearing the news, Tajima’s only comment was “My heart is broken.”  The accident shook Tajima as he, Bruning and Bruning’s father Ralph, who died of cancer in March, were friends.  Tajima spent the rest of the day in seclusion.

The race morning started cold as teams arrived at the park gate at 3:45 a.m.  As the race crews unpacked Tajima’s Aerio Special and Awazuhara’s Grand Vitara Special, both men drove the course at low speed in a Suzuki XL-7 to survey the changes made by the previous night’s showers on the upper portion of the dirt course. 

At 7 a.m., Suzuki’s 450 race attendees arrived and enjoyed a catered breakfast at Suzuki’s pit-side tent village, just 50 yards from the starting line.  Several key executives from both American Suzuki Motor Corporation and Suzuki Motor Corporation, Suzuki dealers from both sides of the Pacific, and engineers from Suzuki Motor Corporation were in attendance.  Suzuki’s presence was felt throughout the race starting area as a sea of red Suzuki Sport racing shirts engulfed other race spectators.

At 10 a.m., the motorcycle sidecar division roared from the starting line.  After a hotly contested battle up the mountain, brothers Pete and Scott Whitney crossed the finish line on their Suzuki TL1000 a full half-second ahead of the next team to win the division and set a new record.  During the awards ceremony, the brothers Whitney thanked Suzuki for “making a bike with incredible power.”

At 11:30, both Tajima and Awazuhara were called to the staging area and Suzuki’s red wave started to line the road.  With the push of the starter buttons, 2000 Suzuki horses roared to life and the crowd parted as both drivers staged their cars.  Awazuhara nosed his Grand Vitara Special to the line after a last minute consultation with his crew chief.  In anticipation, Suzuki’s contingent of 450 lined the course from the start to the one-mile mark and started to feverishly wave Suzuki flags.

With a roar, Awazuhara catapulted himself from the start line.  Slicing through the treacherous course, Awazuhara passed the Glen Cove halfway point clocking a record breaking 121.9 mph.  Cheers of joy, coming from the Suzuki village, could be heard throughout the pits when Awazuhara’s speed was announced.

While in staging, Tajima gave his crew a thumbs-up after hearing of Awazuhara’s record.  With the wave of the starter’s flags, Tajima sped away from the starting line.  Anticipation built as the minutes ticked off the clock.  Like a red blur, Tajima’s Aerio rocketed past the Glen Cove checkpoint, shattering Awazuhara’s record at 132.6 mph.  Then, two miles from the top tragedy struck, the bolt holding the right front shock sheared away from the pressure, dropping the body onto the tire and breaking the driveline on Tajima’s car; ending what would have been a record-breaking run to the Peak.

But Awazuhara was continuing to slash through the corners and accelerate through the straight-aways.  Cresting the Peak, Awazuhara crossed the finish line in a division best time of 11:01:77.

Following his victory, Awazuhara was greeted as a hero by the Suzuki contingent in the Suzuki village and enjoyed lunch with his fans.

During Sunday’s awards banquet, Awazuhara accepted his Open Division 1st Place Cup and received a surprise when it was announced that he had been chosen as Rookie Driver of the Year by the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb board.

“I want to thank you for this honor,” said Awazuhara while accepting his Rookie Driver of the Year plaque.  “The course is one of the most challenging in the world and I will be back next year to try to break the record.”

 

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