Twelve point four-two miles, 156 turns and a finish line more than 4,000m above sea level, Pikes Peak is a race like no other. To compete – let alone be successful – the cars need to be carefully built and finely fettled. The drivers, meanwhile, need nerves of steel and incredible focus as they fly at blistering speeds alongside deadly drops.
Wrestling a Pikes Peak Fiesta up the Goodwood Hill
In 2009, Olsbergs MSE had both, fielding the fearless Marcus Grönholm behind the wheel of an 860PS (633kW) Ford Fiesta Rallycross car. With a huge wing and protruding spoiler – which makes it quite difficult to drive, according to current custodian, Ian Gwynne – the Pikes Peak challenger was set for success and a sub-10-minute run. Of the aero kit, Gwynne continued: “It’s not something that would have been done on a CAD platform and a wind tunnel… But it obviously worked, the car was very fast.”
Unfortunately, turbo issues (“it’s got a huge turbo on it,” Gwynne assures) stood in the way of the ultimate goal, however Grönholm still managed an impressive second place finish. The engine otherwise delivered, despite having to be shortened in stroke and reduced in capacity, due to air intake issues.
“A lot of people think it’s a 2.0-litre, but it’s actually an 1,800 – a Mountune Duratech,” explained Gwynne. “They basically came up with this design to have a slightly smaller capacity to help with the thin air at Pikes Peak.”
While it has covered but a handful of miles since that incredible run, the engine has been reigned in, he continued: “Since we’ve had it, we’ve remapped it and basically detuned it, because you don’t need to be putting the car under all that stress to do events like this.
“I’d say it makes 600 now. There’s lots of torque, it pulls like a train and it’s quite a revvy engine – the power arrives from about 5,000rpm upwards and the limit is round about 9,000rpm. But then when it kicks in, it really does kick in.”
After that legendary run, the Fiesta completed a handful of PR activities, before heading back to Olsbergs for a rebuild, and later falling into the ‘world’s best rally car collection’, owned by US-based businessman, and DirtFish rally school owner, Steve Rimmer. And in 2018 Rimmer entrusted it to Gwynne’s Brackley-based BGMsport. While the Fiesta will never be driven in anger again, it has been used for filming and demonstration events, covering just 50 miles in Gwynne’s hands.
What’s it like to drive, I wondered? “It’s got all mechanical diffs, so no hydraulics involved with those,” he explained. “It’s a straightforward sequential gearbox with a flat shift, it spits flames out and it’s bloody noisy, and makes big pops and bangs.
“In fact, I must remember to get an earplug,” he laughed. “Because it’s right-hand-drive and the exhaust comes out on that side and every time you gear cut when you change gear there’s an enormous bang, which deafens you.”
The son of Bill, a multiple-time national motocross and rally champion, Gwynne Jr has spent his life racing, rebuilding and maintaining rally cars. After winning a clutch of British championships, he retired his driving gloves and launched the business 15 years ago. Today, they count around 20 clients and almost 70 cars, 16 of which they brought to the 2021 Festival of Speed presented by Mastercard.
Gwynne’s tactic is, above all, to take care. Talking of the splitter, he added: “You sit so far back and so low, and I can only just about see over the steering wheel, and actually when I drove it a couple of months ago, I did catch a few things with these end plates because I just didn’t really think about the width of the front of the car.
“Before the event, I’ve been looking at it in my workshop – looking at this big splitter and great big wing on the back and I’m thinking ‘stone wall on that wing, stone wall on this front end here’ and I’ve come to the conclusion that when I get up there, I’m just going to drive in the middle of the road because it’s so difficult to judge.
“A lot of the people who drive here and at events only drive one car,” he continued. “I literally drive all of our cars and I find it a really nice challenge and never have any issues, but to drive front-wheel-drive, rear-wheel-drive, four-wheel-drive, sequential, manual, turbo, non-turbo, left-hand-drive, right-hand-drive, the list goes on, you need to be really adaptable.
“But to drive something like that – I mean I could get in say a Subaru world rally car, I’ve driven so many of them, it’s kind of like putting a pair of gloves on – you don’t really think too much about it. This, definitely needs a bit more concentration… But it puts a massive grin on your face…”
Photography by Tom Shaxson.
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