This Pikes Peak Ford Focus is a hillclimb monster

07th July 2019
Andrew Evans

When it comes to race tracks in unusual places, Pikes Peak might hold the crown. It’s a 12.4-mile long point-to-point course that ascends a mountain in Colorado once proclaimed to be unclimbable. The start line for the course is 2,750m above sea level and the racers have to climb to over 4,250m to reach the finish line.


Naturally it’s the site of a race every 12 months – the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, or “Race to the Clouds”. It’s where Volkswagen’s I.D. R set a new record last year before coming to the 2018 Goodwood Festival of Speed presented by Mastercard and beating all-comers on our hill, too. Racers turn up in their droves with specially constructed cars to survive the harsh conditions on the hot, exposed Colorado mountainside.

Tony Quinn, owner of the Hampton Downs and Highland Park race tracks in New Zealand, is among them, and he’s brought his Ford Focus Pikes Peak racer to the 2019 Festival. Quinn’s Focus didn’t start out as a Pikes Peak car though.


“The car was built to do a gravel hill climb in New Zealand called Race to the Sky, which was sort of an antipode for Pikes Peak,” explains Quinn. “It ran for ten years, and guys like Monster [Nobuhiro Tajima] would come down to New Zealand, but that stopped due to lack of money and things like that. We decided to resurrect it, and we didn’t have a car and we wanted something special, so we built this car for that job.”

The Focus Pikes Peak uses a mid-mounted VR38DETT engine from a Nissan GT-R. It’s wound up to about 850hp, with a nitrous system to overcome any lag in slow hairpin corners. That power heads to a front transaxle, which drives the front wheels and sends power back to a rear differential - which Quinn says makes it quite “active” and “scary”.

That’s all placed into a spaceframe chassis with a reasonable facsimile of a Ford Focus body shell. In fact the A-pillar is pretty much all that’s left from the original Focus. The car itself is a creation of Pace Innovations, the company behind the Brabham BT62 and the MARC V8 endurance racers.

Sadly, Race to the Sky’s resurrection didn’t last beyond the 2015 race. Quinn didn’t want to simply store the car away or hide it in a museum, so he took it to Colorado.


Pikes Peak provides some exceptional challenges for cars. The air pressure even at the start line can be 25% lower than it is at sea level, and this has a dramatic effect on all aspects of performance driving. The Focus has two of the major effects of this covered. First, Pace’s enormous wings and diffuser give the car almost its own weight – 1190kg – in downforce, so even in the thin air it sticks to the road. Meanwhile the turbocharged Nissan V6, and nitrous system, keeps power up above 600hp even at the top of the run.

“When we did Pikes Peak we didn’t understand the dynamics of elevation,” says Quinn. “Everybody talks about the power and stuff and when you’ve got 800hp you really don’t notice going from 800-600bhp. What really buggered us up was the air to cool the brakes!”

Although it’s cool at altitude, the lack of air pressure has a dramatic effect on the heat capacity of the air, and fluids can boil at much lower temperatures as a result. “That’s what people don’t understand about Pikes Peak. First year I did it there was snow on the side of the hill and it was still boiling the brake fluid,” adds Quinn.


“You think you don’t need much brakes going up a hill, but you use your brakes a lot at Pikes Peak”, he says. The Focus Pikes Peak is quite short-geared for its power, topping out at just over 140mph, but it will reach that in places. That means it does experience some heavy braking moments. “For the first two years we didn’t finish because we ran out of brakes completely.”

Quinn finally conquered the mountain in 2018. “We got all the way to the top, and at the second-last hairpin the pedal went right to the floor. There’s only a long straight and a little hairpin after, so I just drove it up, slowed down a bit and we did 9’52. I was happy with that!”

Photography by Pete Summers.

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