To most of you reading this, the Celica will be one of the more familiar machines in Rod’s stable. Sure, he did plenty of great stuff earlier in his career, but the Celica really cemented the Millen name in history. To go out and smash the Pikes Peak’s overall record by a massive 39 seconds was a once-in-a-lifetime achievement, and, though I’m not a betting man, I would drop $1K on a bet that this feat will never be repeated.
To achieve it took a serious programme, and there is no denying it also took a huge budget with some serious partners on board, including Toyota. Rod put together a team of his best, as he explained: “The bit I enjoyed more than anything was putting together the group of people and sitting down with a somewhat clean sheet of paper and coming up with what we could design and build. We had been going to Pikes Peak since ’81, not every year, but most. We had built a variety of different 4WD cars in the early independent suspension, NA [naturally aspirated] and turbo cars, so we had a really good group of people to work together with.”
When building a car for the Pikes’ Unlimited Class, there really was only one rule: the car had to resemble a manufacturer’s model. In the years beforehand, the team had built big-power 4WD machines, but, this time around, there was a new tool
Said Rod, “I had always been a big fan of a 50/50 torque-split. If you look at a lot of the rally guys, they had these active differentials, active centres, torque-split, and all that. I tried it with the 323 in the Asia-Pacific, but I still wasn’t convinced. My deal was, if I could pull all four tyres off the car and stack them up and not be able to tell the difference between the front and the rear, then we had the chassis right. If they weren’t wearing equally, then it was an under- or oversteering car. It’s pretty interesting now, if you look at all these highpowered Global Rallycross cars, they all have 50/50 torque-split, so I think the active diffs and all that crap [were] … smoke and mirrors, quite honestly”
in the arsenal, something that would be instrumental in the Celica’s success: aerodynamics. “Lee Dykstra — a well-known guy in IndyCar circles — and professor Joseph Cates out of the University of San Diego, who was also well known, designed the aero. Yes, we wanted to keep the Celica-shape silhouette, which was important to Toyota, but they took that shape and morphed it into what they needed to get the right aerodynamics. It was all modelled on a Cray supercomputer; these days it would be much easier [you can download and run more powerful programs on your laptop], but, 22 years ago, it required a lot of computing power to look at what it would do.”
Being forced to stick to the exterior shape meant that it was all about utilizing the underside to get downforce. Two large venturis run from just behind the firewall, and exit the rear bumper. Removing this air as efficiently as possible is the job of that large rear wing, and its primary task is to create as much negative airflow behind the car as possible. But, being 4WD, it’s not all about rear downforce — frontal downforce is just as important. This is also handled by large venturis, which take air from big front dams, through coolers, to exit via the rear of the front wheels.
After all the shapes had been modelled by the supercomputer, Rod’s in-house team then produced the carbon panels, but time constraints meant that, in the first year, some of the actual plugs were run complete with excess bog, something Rod laughs about now.
Before they ran at Pikes in ’94, the team spent time at 1220 metres, testing and refining the car’s limits in the El Mirage desert to prove the aerodynamic shapes, in what was, effectively, a real-world wind tunnel, as Rod recalled: “We then went to the El Mirage dry lakes in the Mojave Desert. We would do 100mph [161kph] passes in each direction and measure the effects of downforce using instrumentation on the suspension. Throughout the few days, we would do lots of little changes on the car to see what each adjustment we would make to the car in terms of total downforce or front and rear, and so on.” The Celica performed, creating a massive 907kg (2000 pounds) of downforce at only 161kph. And, from there on up, it’s not a linear curve — it’s quite aggressive — and, by top speed (around 275kph), the car is creating a massive 1360kg. The Celica weighs 862kg, which means that, at only 161kph, it could easily drive on the ceiling.
The next stage of development saw the team rent out Pikes Peak, something Rod tells us you could do for three hours each morning before the public toll road opened. “When we started testing at Pikes Peak, I knew what we wanted in terms of roll stiffness front and rear, being 4WD, and for handling and stuff
The manifolds and exhaust are made from a super alloy known as ‘ Inconel’, a superstrong and corrosionresistant material used in extreme heat and pressure situations. With 45psi of boost from the highly strung fourcylinder, we would say the Celica qualifies
like that at low speed, but I had no idea what it would mean at high speed. It took us quite a while to get the high-speed balance right, which became the aerodynamic balance. One of the biggest things I had to change was my driving style, as, the way the front venturis are shaped, I can’t have any more than about 15 degrees of slip angle, or otherwise it doesn’t load air properly into the venturis and it doesn’t get the turn-in. Modern race cars won’t even allow that much slip, but they knew that we needed some slip, certainly around the tight corners. So, as long as, in my terms, I kept the car straight, it was very, very good.”
But the testing wasn’t just for Rod’s team; it was also used by BF Goodrich, which brought along five different compounds to trial. Back then, the surface at Pikes was rough granite. It was a tyre killer and running only 10psi of pressure didn’t help. BF took away all the data and put together a compound especially to provide maximum grip and last the 19.98km and 156 corners. Even with a specially designed compound, it was still up to Rod to minimize tyre spin, something that was not easy with a wild (early 1990s-tech) laggy turbo and 635-odd kilowatts. “Up near the top, they are getting pretty shagged,” he said. “With this sort of power on gravel roads, you spin the tyres real quick. Just learning how to manage that — there is 18 times you go back into first gear through the hairpins, so getting off the hairpins, which, in most cases, is a steep uphill, you just have to be very careful on the throttle. Short shifting and getting it back in top gear as effectively as you can, it’s easy to drive the thing wild and quite sideways; it’s quite fun actually, but it’s not fast.”
The engine was the one area in the entire build, bar the tyres, that Rod’s team didn’t need to worry about. Rod explained that the backing of Toyota, which made its very successful fourcylinder turbo engines available to the team, was a huge step up. These packages had run in the IMSA series with Dan Gurney and obliterated the likes of the V12 Jaguars and Porsches. They had also dominated in things like the 24 Hours of Daytona. The motor had a specially cast block running upwards of 895kW in qualifying trim — TRD had developed a monster. Rod mentioned that he
Producing so much downforce meant Rod had to bottomout the shocks and basically run the Celica on the bump stops at high speed, relying on the tyres for some suspension
recently chatted to the engineer in charge of the engines and was told that only one in five blocks cast ever made it into a car.
Would you believe that that record-setting engine is still in the Celica to this very day? That was something which certainly surprised us, when you think just how highly strung it is. Said Rod, “When they ran these engines, they never pulled them out if they were good. They had a history; if they were reliable they were really reliable, and if they were going to fail they would do so very early on. So, they went on the basis of just putting new motors into those cars, and if it was good it was left in there.”
In the Celica, the engine was pushing 45psi and 633kW, with Bosch engine management the size of Michael Jordan’s shoebox and a large-frame Garrett turbo. During testing, TRD sent a team of technicians to Pikes so they could fine-tune the set-up to cope with the altitude and still make the numbers. Over the course of the run, the car would lose around 150kW due to the thinner air.
Well, we all know the rest. Rod went on to stamp his name into the history books with a run of 1min 4.060s, and then, in 1996, he managed to shave a further .006s off the record. Thirteen years later, the Celica still couldn’t be touched. Even when the team developed the Tacoma two years later — a car that Rod explains as being light years ahead of the Celica — it was not able to touch
the record, although it did take back-to-back Unlimited Class victories. It wasn’t until the course was 100-per-cent tarmac in 2007 that the record was broken, by Monster Tajima.
It’s a little old-school tech now, but the Celica’s still got it. It’s a constant top-10 place-getter at the Goodwood Festival of Speed when it’s up there, and, here on Rod’s drive, it also remains king. And, despite what you might think, it’s not like Rod practises in it every week. The only time it’s out is during the Leadfoot Festival, and, even then, he doesn’t want to be too hard on the old girl, as he is trying to make it last a long time. But with the 100 years of Pikes coming up next year, there is talk of the car heading back, though Rod is not sure whether he can get the old gang back together for one last hurrah, and the Toyota would need work that might affect its mana as an unaltered piece of history.
Rod comes across as someone who does nothing by halves, and he is never just there to fill a place on a grid, so an appearance would not just be a leisurely drive up the mountain. Even in his graceful old age, you can see the fire in Rod’s eyes — the same fire that I bet was there when he started running hill climbs on Auckland’s North Shore in the 1950s. If he does decide to go, you can be sure that he will be there to run some competitive numbers.
Made entirely from carbon, the majority of the body comes off in one piece to reveal the tube frame
Suspension- wise the Celica remains in gravel trim from ’ 94. The only changes have been to a road- racing slick. Rod told us it could use a bit more roll stiffness to optimize the handling on tarmac