Time attack specialist Will Au-Yeung holds many records at many tracks in both Japan and in the US. As of last week, he now also holds the front-wheel-drive record at the infamous Pikes Peak hillclimb. This is a story about a determined driver, an incredible car, and a mountain that tries to fight back.
Will, first of all, congratulations on the result. Was this your first attempt at Pikes Peak?
No, this was our second run. In 2019 we had our first attempt to beat the front-wheel-drive record but, unfortunately, our transmission broke and we had to finish the last one and a half miles of the course with only first gear. But we made it to the summit, which was our first goal. Even with that happening we only finished 20 seconds off the record, so we knew we were on the right track.
How do you even begin to deal with a course and the schedule of an event like the Pikes Peak hill climb?
It doesn’t matter how much you read and try to prepare, you always get shocked by your first time at Pikes Peak. You wake up every morning at 2am and you have to really schedule your body to sleep at certain points or you will get exhausted before the actual race even starts. Then there is the altitude and the conditions. When we were testing, we were pitting and working on the cars at Devil’s Playground, which is at 13000 feet. Up there it was so hard to breathe, and on top of that, the temperature was almost below freezing. Everything about this mountain and the event is working against you and the way a normal human needs to function. There is no other event like it in the world.
Although there is no official FWD category, you managed to still beat the record! What was that like?
Yes, it’s an “unofficial record” but Pikes Peak does keep the times so the record does stand. On top of that half of the course was wet for us as well. So, I was constantly fighting for grip with a front-wheel-drive car on slick tyres on a wet surface. The traction control was working overdrive and I was still lighting up the tyres in fourth gear [laughs]. I think that if it had been dry the car was good for a top-10 overall. That being said, it was an amazing battle. I was fighting with current record holder Rob Holland in the Audi RS3. It’s incredible to race someone like him. He raced everything you can imagine all over the world and now I’m competing with him on Pikes Peak. Plus, we get along pretty well and, with both Motul and Borgwarner, we also have very similar backing, which is great too.
You broke the record in a Honda Civic. Tell us about this amazing build. Is it an all-new car compared to your time attack car?
Yes, it’s a completely new chassis but it’s the same type of car. We call it Civic V2. I had a huge crash at Road America with the first car last year and the impact was so big we had no choice but to build an entirely new car. At the same time, this accident pushed us towards an opportunity to build a new car from scratch and take all of the things that made the first car great and fix the issues with it at the same time.
How different is the set-up for Pikes Peak compared to the time attack car?
It’s very different. Pikes Peak is essentially a road. That’s why we debuted the V2 for Pikes Peak, because we first wanted to build it as a hill climb car and then adjust it to do a time attack. We basically did the opposite of what we did in 2019. For this car, we went with a completely new ECO by Mtron (and they actually sent over their tech people for the event) and Borg Warner actually built us a very unique turbocharger to work better with the thinner air at altitude. Regarding the set-up, the biggest thing we wanted is to keep that inside wheel on the ground at all times. With FWD cars it tends to kick up mid-corner but we want all four tyres on the ground most of the time. So, we ran longer suspension travel but a stiffer spring rate for this event, and this really changed to dynamic of the car giving me the confidence to push.
How challenging is the course itself? Most of the turns are blind, there are steep drops everywhere, and a lot of the corners look similar.
You can’t be afraid of the mountain otherwise there really is no point in even entering the event. It’s a very challenging course but I think I’m pretty good at memorising it. At one point you just race it on feeling and that’s when it gets fun. On the other hand, you can miss a breaking point and get rattled by it. Then things get dangerous because once you lose that confidence you start doubting yourself and that’s when mistakes happen.
How important is a lubricant when racing at altitude?
I’m not even kidding but I think we’re lucky because we have 300V. The quality of the product is incredible. The oil is so consistent that we can play around with the viscosity, and you will notice the difference right away. Because we’re pushing this engine so hard and ask so much from it at altitude the lubricant is instrumental. A funny side note is that the way 300V manages the oil temperature was so amazing we had to warm up the car for a really long time just to get enough temperature in the oil. That’s usually the opposite of issues we had in the past with other brands.
© Pictures: PPIHC, Larry Cheng