Romain Dumas is a well-regarded endurance racer who, like some of the braver racers of the past, participates in multiple categories and does more than bump fenders. The winner of last year’s Pike’s Peak International Hillclimb, Dumas is no stranger to the Race to the Clouds, and takes the event quite seriously—seriously enough for three wins in the last four years.
His car this year was a revised version of the Norma MXX RD he used last year; a prototype with a compact, turbocharged Honda powerplant to battle the specific challenge of thin air. With thin air comes the need for effective aero parts; there’s so much less to press the car into the asphalt. The splitter was stretched to a staggering 7’5″ to help with a nimble front end—a must for some of the faster, tightening turns present towards the top of the Coloradoan peak. Former members of the Formula Student team Rennteam Uni Stuttgart shaped the new bodykit, which increases downforce and reduces drag compared to last year’s body. It’s lengthened and widened the package significantly and added some weight, but improvements in mechanical grip, braking performance, and power were made to compensate for the additional 350 pounds onboard. At 5’7″ and 134 pounds, Dumas can’t lose any more weight to offset the extra heft.
Team RD also ditched last year’s steel brakes in favor of a set of carbon rotors and a new pad/caliper setup. With newer, stickier Michelin tires, braking grip was improved considerably. With a power bump from a larger turbocharger and a more efficient intercooler, the 600-horsepower Honda mill had more than enough to put the car very sideways; even with a revised four wheel-drive system. There wouldn’t be much that could touch this Le Mans star in a 1,700-pound rocketship.
The first thing which stands out on this searing lap is the stability at speed. Those aerodynamic changes seem to make a massive difference in the Norma’s behavior when compared to its last year. In no way does the modern iteration look as nervous, and Dumas doesn’t need to countersteer much at all.
Additionally, the power delivery looks to have been softened. That could be due to tuning improvements with the Ohlins shocks, or a revised engine map. Another possibility could be an unforeseen drop in engine power. Even with world-class preparation, the one-shot nature of the hillclimb requires absolutely every aspect to go to plan, and that wasn’t the case this year.
Though practice started auspiciously with Dumas beating his previous time by over four seconds, things didn’t pan out so well during his timed run. Due to a reported spark plug issue, Dumas clocked a time of 9:05.672—fifteen seconds slower than his time the previous year. It was still enough to win the Unlimited class, so Dumas didn’t exactly go home empty handed. Nevertheless, for a perfectionist like him, it’s easy to see he didn’t completely fulfill his aims. Still, you can’t feel too sorry for him.