Falken Tire Corp. sometimes goes by “FTC,” which also stands for “Fun Tire Company,” according to President and Chief Operating Officer Hideo Honda.
And, fun was in the stars the week of June 22-26. Approximately 20 Falken tire dealers and North American journalists from select tire and automotive enthusiast magazines were treated to a five-day jaunt in Colorado Springs, Colo., on behalf of Falken.
Though the main attraction was the 83rd running of the Falken Pikes Peak International Hill Climb & Drift Exhibition on June 25, Falken packed each day with activities for its dealers. While some toured area gold mines and casinos, others suited up for white-water rafting on class-five rapids.
The main event, the Pikes Peak race, is locally known as the “Race to the Clouds.” That’s a fitting nickname, considering Pikes Peak towers over Colorado Springs at 14,110 feet.
Each year, an average of 150 drivers in a variety of automotive classes compete in the race. Stock cars, unlimiteds, open-wheel cars, SUVs, quads, motorcycles and even Class-8 big rigs take on the 12-mile course that starts at 9,300 feet and ends at the top of America’s Mountain.
Some portions of the track are paved; other parts are scarcely more than loose dirt. Close to the summit, the only guides are the tire tracks from previous drivers. The vehicles have to master a total of 156 turns along cliffs thousands of feet high. Guardrails? No way.
This was Falken’s fifth year as sponsor of the race and third as name and title sponsor, said Richard Smallwood, Falken’s vice president of sales, marketing and logistics. “It’s an historic event for us,” he noted. “And, it’s more than just sponsoring the race. Bringing our dealers out here has been a five-year tradition.”
In a sense, this year’s race broke some of that tradition. The 2005 race was different from all others. For the first time ever, the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb could be called “Race ‘From’ the Clouds.” Never in the event’s history have drivers raced back down Pikes Peak after climbing it. And, that’s exactly what they did this year.
Obviously, racing up the 14,110-foot mountain is risky, but racing down it is even more dangerous. Downhill racing is more severe than uphill, according to Smallwood. “There’s no comparison,” he said. “If your brakes or tires overheat going down, it’s a lot scarier. As tires overheat, the amount of grip drops considerably,” Smallwood explained. “And, you don’t want to lose grip on that hill. Unlike other courses, there is not a lot of forgiveness on this race track.”
Several cars raced on Falken’s World Spec Azenis RT-615 race tire, Smallwood said. “We know that the tire can handle race track speeds on one of the toughest tracks in the U.S.,” he explained. “And, the track is not only a harsh environment, it has mixed conditions asphalt and loose dirt. You also have tremendous heat buildup,” he added.
The Azenis RT-615 tire was introduced at the 2004 SEMA Show as the successor of the RT-215. It became available early this year in a range of 14- through 18-inch sizes and 60 to 30 aspect ratios.
Downhill racing wasn’t the only new feature of the 2005 race. Nick Fousekis, Falken’s manager of performance marketing, along with Smallwood, brought a brand-new class called “time attack” to the mountain race. In the new class, one driver at a time races up and back down the 2.8-mile paved portion of the track. He competes for the fastest time, pushing as hard as he can.
All cars in the time-attack class rode on Azenis RT-615 tires. Smallwood said the tires face constant heat and stress during a time-attack race. “There is no waiting to make your move on another competitor,” Smallwood said. “It’s all out, all the time. Drivers give it everything they’ve got. And, if they make a mistake, they don’t get a second chance to make it up. It’s over. That’s what time attack is.”
Like drifting, time attack originated in Japan then made its way to the U.S. Also like drifting, time attack usually takes place on flat tracks. Not this time.
The day after the big race, the second annual Falken Tire Drift Showoff attracted hundreds of spectators to Pikes Peak International Raceway. Falken brought drifting to Pikes Peak last year and Smallwood said it was a great success.
According to Greg Hatton, Falken’s performance market specialist, the new Team Falken drift vehicles unveiled there RX-7s, an Infiniti G35, Ford Mustang GT, and Nissan S13 and S15 were each fitted with Azenis RT-615 tires. “The tire provides grip at high horsepower,” he said.