The Race To The Clouds is a very explanatory name for the Pikes Peak International Hillclimb, one of the most daunting racing challenges in the world. It’s a 20km twisty mountain road that snakes up the mountain through 156 corners, starting at 1,440m of elevation, and running all the way to the top at 4,320m. Although most of the surface has been paved, it remains a huge challenge for man and machine, primarily due to the huge change in elevation and subsequent drop in oxygon as the altitude increases. For this year, the 101st running of the Pike’s Peak event, saw Ford entering with a Transit van. But not just any van, a genuine Supervan!
The stipulation for the Pikes Peak International Hillclimb is quite simple. Comply with one of the six different categories’ regulations, and blast your way up the mountain in an attempt to set the fastest time in class, and potentially overall. If you can achieve that, you’re a winner of one of the most prestigious and oldest racing events in history. The race was first contested in 1916, as Spencer Penrose organised the event to promote the newly constructed Pikes Peak Highway. Although it was long a purely American event, by the 1980s European and Asian manufacturers and racing drivers got involved. Names like Michèle Mouton, Walter Röhrl, Ari Vatanen, Nobuhiro “Monster” Tajima and many others left a lasting impression on the mountain and racing fans.
The contestants are divided into six divisions; Unlimited, Time Attack 1, Pikes Peak GT4 Trophy by Yokohama, Open Wheel, Pikes Peak Open and Exhibition. The event is one of the last to feature an almost limitless class, called Unlimited. This allows fully purpose-built cars to enter and try their best to beat the course record. Romain Dumas holds the overall record at 7:57.148, set in the all-electric Volkswagen I.D. R. The Pikes Peak Open class might sound similar on paper, but this has a bit more restrictions in what you can run, as it has to be (loosely) based on a production vehicle. The organization does allow for major technical and aerodynamical upgrades though, so the machines in this class can look as wild as in the Unlimited class. This class, the Pikes Peak Open, is what we’re going to take a closer look at today, as Ford entered with its latest Supervan.
The Ford Supervan Concept
The clue to what a Supervan sort of lies in its name. It’s basically a Ford Transit with a monster engine, a concept that dates back to 1971 and which was primarily designed as a promotional vehicle by Ford UK. What they did was take a regular production Ford Transit, one of the best-selling vans of all time, and stick the body on top of the chassis and engine of a Ford GT40. This gave it about 435bhp, 4 to 5 times the power of a stock Transit. If you look at footage of this MkI Supervan, it looks hilarious, picking up the inside front wheel as it dances around a corner!
Ford built several other Supervans, all based on the Transit. In 1984 they built the Transit Supervan 2, fitted with a 3.9 litre Cosworth DFV V8 from a Ford C100 Group C prototype. With close to 600 horsepower, this hit a top speed of 280kph, which is insane for a van! But the insanity didn’t stop there, as a decade later the Supervan 3 was built. This time Ford shrunk the body of a Transit down to 7/8ths scale and stuck in the 3.5 litre Cosworth HB V8 that produced between 630 and 700bhp and was used in Ayrton Senna’s McLaren MP4/8 for the 1993 Formula 1 season. This boosted the top speed to close to 300kph. Again, in a VAN!
So that’s the general idea. Start with a stock Transit put in a hugely powerful engine and have a ton of fun in the process. In recent years, Ford has rekindled the concept of the Supervan but took it into a different, electrified direction.
The Supervan 4.2
Last year, Ford introduced a new Supervan at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. Known as the Ford Supervan 4.0, this was an electrified version of the latest generation of the Transit. The team didn’t mess about though and constructed a bespoke chassis and electric driveline. Four motors and a battery pack produced an astonishing 2,000bhp and 1,800Nm of torque, all hidden by a wild aero kit with huge wings, flaps, and cutouts to keep the car stable and planted. Zero to 100kph took less than 2 seconds, and the top speed is claimed to be in excess of 320kph.
For Pikes Peak, Ford’s Performance division decided to use the Supervan 4.0 as the platform for its hillclimb racer. Over a period of six weeks, which is super short for such a build, the team constructed the Supervan 4.2, an evolution of the one that blasted up the hill at Goodwood. It needed to drop some weight, so it was decided to drop one of the electric motors. This also cuts the power from a bonkers 2,000 to a still almighty 1,427 horsepower, but it has to deal with 400 kilograms less weight, which is a huge difference. Every aspect of the car was changed to optimize its performance, including new brakes, new transmission, new suspension and new aerodynamic components.
Obliterating the course record
Ford set out to beat the class record in the Pikes Peak Open division and aimed for a sub-9-minute time. It takes a certain character to even come close to that but Ford had a cunning plan, as it enlisted Romain Dumas as the driver of the Supervan 4.2. Romain knows the track up the mountain inside and out, as he holds the overall speed record and has won the event in 2014, 2016, 2017 and 2018. His previous record in the Volkswagen I.D. R still stands mind you, but was set in a different class.
On June 25th of this year, Ford lined up the Supervan 4.2 on the starting line. During a practice session, the car broke down due to a problem with the transmission, but for the race, everything seemed perfect. The record for the Open Class stood since 2019, at 9:24,433 seconds, so the goal was to best that by at least 24,5 seconds and possible set the fastest time overall in the process.
The Ford Supervan 4.2 ended up smashing that goal and set a new class record at a staggering 8:47,682 for the full 20km run! That means it was quicker by a massive 37 seconds! The only (slight) downside, however, is the fact it was a time only good enough for second overall. The 2018 Wolf TSC-FS driven by Robin Schute in the Unlimited division was even quicker, at 8:40,682. Still, it’s a mighty impressive achievement by a Ford Transit van, or rather Ford Transit Supervan!
Editorial Note: The images used in this article are sourced from and used with the permission of Media.Ford.com.