The YouTube videos are downright spooky. The low-resolution moving images reveal an early Mustang standing on the throttle, banging gears, snaking through the first few turns of what used to be called the Virginia City Hill Climb. Early on, there's a sweeping righthander where the camera flashes on a dirt shoulder, no guardrail, and what appears to be a 10,000-foot drop into nothingness. It's intimidating to say the least.
The course is set up over the 5.2-mile truck route 341 that winds into Virginia City, Nevada, over a beautiful landscape of undulating turns, minimal guardrails, and a climb that starts at a rarefied 5,000 feet and ends crossing a bridge at 6,200 feet. Walking a portion of the course at a brisk pace will take your breath away both from the impressive view and the fact that there's precious little air for humans or engines at that altitude. It's the perfect place to test a serious torque curve, suspension tuning, and perhaps most of all, driver skill and how much you're willing to risk.
Amir Rosenbaum is the owner of Spectre Performance, the company makes that those trick, prefabricated cold-air-induction systems for muscle cars and even the new '10 Camaro. Among Amir's many haunts is the Bonneville Salt Flats, which lured him into building a Cadillac-powered streamliner to run more than 300 mph. Match that with the near-vertical assault of his other passion, the Virginia City Hill Climb, and you see that Amir revels in the nontraditional. What's even more impressive is that he can claim the title of the one true king of the mountain, because he owns the record. So when he saw a chance to revive this event, Amir dubbed it the 341 Challenge and offered up this inaugural race as an invitational to charge the summit. It took us less than five seconds to volunteer a certain blue '65 Chevelle to enter the fray.
Inaugural events like this often attract a broad spectrum of cars, and the 341 Challenge paid off in that respect like a Fremont Street slot machine. We expected the typical turbo Porsches, big-dog Vipers, and Corvettes to rumble amid the inevitable all-wheel-drive and turbocharged Subaru WRX and Mitsubishi Evo cars. Even rally hero Rod Millen showed up with his race-prepped AWD Nissan GT-R. What we didn't expect was a '52 DeSoto and a GMC pickup. Sprinkle in an aluminum front-end '69 Camaro and Spectre's LS7 427ci El Camino and the field of vehicles was as eclectic as Jay Leno's garage.
Lou Gigliotti of Trans-Am and American Le Mans Series (ALMS) road racing fame and owner of Lou Gigliotti Motorsports that builds high-end Corvettes took the overall event win with a 3:21.747 pass. Mark Gillies actually ran a couple of seconds quicker in a borrowed Viper RCR, but the sticky tires didn't meet the 341 Challenge's 100 treadwear rating requirement, so Gillies' was strictly a moral victory. Among the car crafty cars that impressed us most was the Griggs Racing GR40 Mustang driven by mountain veteran Guy Cunningham, who blasted a solid 3:28.423-second pass that was good for Fourth overall. Our Chevelle was far slower, but the goal this first year was just to keep all four wheels on the pavement and come home with another hash mark on the Chevelle's long-term goal of running as many different events as possible.
Amir and Spectre Performance are already planning 2011's return to the mountain, and like the gold fever that struck the 19th century men who worked the famous Virginia City Comstock mine, we've been hit with our own strain of mountain fever. We learned about the 3:41 Club, populated with courageous souls and strong machines that have forced their way to the top in less than 3 minutes and 42 seconds. For 2011, we'll settle for a quicker lap than we ran this year.
Lou Gigliotti went home with the trophy for quickest lap time in his '10 ZR1 Corvette with
Among the true hero efforts was this Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution all-wheel-drive turbo car