Over the years, many different types of vehicles have taken part in ‘The Race to the Clouds’ – the annual hillclimb event in the American state of Colorado which started in 1916. In a way, the event has also documented the technological progress of motor vehicles as we can see that today, hybrids and electrically-powered cars are also taking part.

However, it is rather hard to imagine a luxury model like a Bentley being also entered in the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. And it’s not some prototype which carried the brand name but a production model – the Bentayga SUV – which 2-time Pikes Peak overall winner Rhys Millen will pilot at the 2018 run this June. But then again, motorsport is part of Bentley’s history and as far back as 1921, a Bentley EXP2 won won the Junior Sprint Handicap at Brooklands in England.

Rhys Millen

Aiming to break the existing Production SUV record of 12 minutes 35.61 seconds (set by a Range Rover Sport in 2014), the Bentayga will need to average a minimum of 96 km/h up the exceptionally tight and twisty 156-corner course. The route starts off at an elevation of 2,800 metres and the cars race over 19.99 kms to the summit at 4,300 metres above sea level.

With years of competition at Pikes Peak and also in the Red Bull Global Rallycross series, Millen certainly possesses both the ability and experience required to push the Bentayga to its limits of performance in pursuit of the record. The race-ready Bentayga, powered by an unmodified 600 bhp/900 Nm Bentley W12 engine, has been prepared by the company’s motorsports department. The all-wheel drive car has been built as close to standard as possible, with changes only in accordance with the Production Class rules.

A full roll cage, onboard fire suppression system, racing seats and harnesses ensure Millen’s assault on the mountain will be as safe as it is fast. Production tyres will also be fitted but the car will run with a custom exhaust system from Akrapovic, who also produced the bespoke exhaust for the Continental GT3-R motorsport-inspired model. In every other respect, including the air suspension with 48V electric active anti-roll control, the car will be similar to what a customer would drive.

Pikes Peak represents the next challenge for the Bentayga, following Bentley’s tradition of testing its cars in extreme environments that has seen the Continental GT set records of 330 km/h on ice and over 290 km/h on sand, while an unmodified Continental GT Speed has tackled a stage of the World Rally Championship.

“With two previous overall victories to his name, Rhys’ credentials speak for themselves. His knowledge of the course, his professionalism as a competitor and his enthusiasm for the project make him the perfect choice for us. In the Bentayga, we’ve given Rhys the perfect opportunity to claim another Pikes Peak record, and I’m confident he can set an impressive time when the race takes place on 24th June,” said Bentley’s Director of Motorsport, Brian Gush.

45 year-old New Zealand native Millen comes from a family long-associated with Pikes Peak. Rhys is the son of Rod Millen, the second most prolific Pikes Peak competitor in history with 5 overall victories to his name. Rhys followed in his father’s legendary footsteps when he took the Pikes Peak title for the first time in 2012, followed by a second victory in 2015.

Bentley has a long history of participating in motorsports, especially famous events like Le Mans (above).

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[Chips Yap]

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