It isn’t immediately apparent how a wily Swedish rally driver’s slidey ascent up the side of a treacherous Coloradan mountain pass can be faintly traced back to the author of the fabled ‘Declaration of Independence’, but such a connection exists. Kind of.
Because it was he, none other than Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United States, who commissioned Lt Zebulon Pike to explore the Great Plains of America in the early part of the 19th century. And it was in 1806 that Lieutenant Pike, looking out over east Colorado at that mountain, swore that no man would ever be able to ascend its terrifying 14,110ft peak. No man.
Clearly, he was wrong. Because ever since the first Pikes Peak ‘hillclimb’ in 1916, helmeted enthusiasts have been risking humility and significant injury to important body parts to be the quickest to navigate this rather big mountain. All of them take it very seriously, especially considering the potential for topsy-turvy carmageddon, like this. Well, nearly all take it seriously. There is one man who thought it would be ‘good fun’; a plucky Swede who laughs in the face of danger. Stig.
Blomqvist, that is. You’ll be aware of Mr Stig; legendary racer with a world rally championship crown under his belt (1984), alongside two Race of Champions wins (below) and numerous international rally victories. But that’s the stuff that gets talked about. What people don’t often mention are his runs up Pikes Peak in an 840bhp Ford Escort RS200E. More specifically, his run in 2004. Turns out we’re in fine company, as when I mention it, Stig smiles infectiously.
“Pikes was a bit of a funny thing really,” he says. “There were a few…‘enthusiastic’ English guys who wanted to race Pikes Peak in a Ford RS200. They asked me if I wanted to drive with them.” At this point, Stig shrugs his shoulders with a ‘oh well’ expression. “I said OK, why not? It can be an interesting race.”
Such modesty belies his raw speed and natural talent. Smooth, too. “I knew the engine builder of the RS200 – because he had been working with me previously – so I thought I’ll go and see what’s happening. I hadn’t ever been there before and people had been talking about it, so it was quite exciting to go up there.”
He pauses, perhaps to reflect on just how high the ruddy thing gets. “When you start running up and down to learn the road a bit, you very soon find places where you are not allowed to go.” He stares at me quite directly. “Places you realise will hurt if you go there.”
But don’t be mistaken that this commentary reflects his fear. Not one bit. “I wasn’t scared at all on the race itself. As I said, you know where you are not allowed to have an accident, so you have to be careful,” the ‘not-allowed’ bit referring to his inner psyche, no doubt. With another modest shrug of the shoulders – prefaced with a very slight smirk – he proclaims: “Yeah, we had quite good speed.”
‘Quite’ good, Mr Stig? That RS200 – with an engine built by British firm Mach 2 Racing – packed technology built specifically for climbing that mountain. The engine featured a Garrett turbo that spun to 170,000rpm – 50,000rpm more than the ‘standard’ RS200 – together with an IMSA American-style intercooler with water injection. The objective of the build was to keep the boost pressure at 2bar, whatever the altitude. And this is important: remember the TG chaps’ epic Bolivia challenge and the difficulty their wheezy cars faced when driving over that volcano?
All in, Stig’s Ford was producing 840bhp and 700lb ft of torque. More than enough to give him his ‘quite’ good speed. In fact, he recorded a win in the ‘Unlimited’ class, albeit across a shortened version of the course, due to the unforgiving elements. “OK, so we had a few problems. When we were totally prepared and everything was working well, it started snowing so we could only do half the hill. We weren’t allowed to go to the top.”
Not that he would have noticed any difference in where he was, mind. “The problem with Pikes is a lot of the places look very, very similar,” he notes. “I was actually using a computer for pace notes: I didn’t have a co-driver, I had a machine. There was a plus and minus button on the steering wheel, so if I had too much wheelspin, I could back off a bit.”
He managed to record a time of 5m 16.8s in the end; enough to win in his class, but still some 10 seconds off Paul Dallenbach’s winning time of 5m 06.230s. Stig doesn’t care. “I wouldn’t have bothered in any other classes because ‘Unlimited’ is the fun one to be in,” he says, laughing quite heartily. “I feel a bit safer when you have something around you. To be in an open wheeler up the hill… that’s not what I would like to do. But those boys who do it are fairly brave. And when you hear stories about guys doing bloody motorbikes up there in the snow and ice, well,” he pauses, and stops his laughter like a switch, “that was absolutely stupid what they were doing.”
He should know, he’s piloted some scary machinery himself during his glory years. “I’ve been quite lucky with what I’ve been using, really. The first proper rally car for me was the Lancia Stratos – that was a proper built rally car in those days. OK, so the Ford Escort was a really nice car, not really scary to drive at all.” Again, he stops, reflects, and stares at me quite intently; suggestively. “I suppose if you think about it like that, every car is scary, no? It’s up to the driver, and how he drives it.”
A driver like ‘Monster’ Tajima, no less? The mere mention of his name elicits the most raucous reaction from Mr Blomqvist. “I met him when he was rallying,” says Stig, laughing. “He’s a good guy, but a little bit scary. He looks hard but he’s really nice. A good laugh when you get to know him.” It’s clear the pair share a flagrant and enjoyable disregard for society’s accepted norms of what a racing driver should be.
“Sooner or later though, someone will come up with something to beat him,” he says of the legendary, 62-year old Tajima. “But it’s a shame that the whole course is now tarmac, because you can’t compare what they were doing 20 years ago to what they’re doing today. It’s become more difficult.”
We come to the end, and there’s also one other thing that’s a bit difficult too: navigating what would appear on the surface to be a very simple question, but one that could have a deeper meaning. “Could I beat The Stig?” he says, laughingly.
He is of course, talking about TG’s Tame Racing Driver, and not referencing himself in the third person in a bout of existentialist crisis. This is, after all, the man who first got into racing “because I thought I was better than my family”.
No, Stig vs Stig, on paper – who would win? “I don’t know if I could beat The Stig. It would be nice to try…”
Gauntlet? Consider yourself thrown.