LONDON (Reuters) - Robin Shute hails from one of England's flattest counties, a region whose highest hill rises a mere 105 metres above sea level, yet no Briton has conquered the heights of motorsport quite like him.
The Norfolk-born 34-year-old, who moved to California to work for Tesla after university, has been overall winner of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in Colorado for three of the last four years.
America's second oldest car race, first run in 1916 and also known as The Race to the Clouds, starts at 1,440m and rises over some 20km of asphalt road with crests and switchbacks and the car buffeted by wind, to 4,302m.
Shute, who first raced the event on a video game as a child, is the only Briton to have won the overall title and is now looking at the next step.
"I'm going for the mountain record, this is my path right now," he told Reuters this week as he collected the prestigious Segrave Trophy at London's Royal Automobile Club.
"I’m working on a new car for next year that will smash the record, not just kind of sneak up on it."
Shute said it would be 'insanely fast' -- a 450kg car producing 1,000bhp and with almost double the downforce of a Formula One racer.
That compares to a fully-fuelled Formula One car with similar horsepower but weighing around 900kg.
Shute described taking on the mountain -- a battle against physics and changing weather -- as a fundamental but deeply satisfying challenge.
"You have one corner to get used to where the car's at and where the hill’s at and then you’ve got to be flat out. And that next corner’s coming at you as a blind right-hander over a crest at about 110-120mph," he said.
"I always say going downhill (after the timed run) is the scary bit because you’re going slowly and there’s enough time to see all the places where you could go and crash. On the way up it’s a little busy."
MOUNTAIN LOVE AFFAIR
"I fall in and out of love with each bit of the mountain year on year," said Shute, who joins American motor racing greats Mario Andretti, Al Unser and Rick Mears as Pikes Peak winners.
"This year it was the middle section and I really got dialled. For me the feeling of being on the limit, or pretty close, in the car up the mountain is unbeatable. It’s the feeling I am chasing."
The overall record was set by Le Mans 24 Hours winner Romain Dumas in 2018 in an electric Volkswagen ID.R and with a time of seven minutes 57.148 seconds.
"We’re getting there, we’re matching sector times of the ID.R in certain places now," said Shute.
The combustion engine record belongs to nine-times world rally champion Sebastien Loeb, who clocked 8:13.878 in a Peugeot in 2013.
Shute is sticking with internal combustion, convinced it remains faster on the mountain than electric, but he said the future could be something else.
"I think a fan car is that next step of performance, more so than what is propelling the car," he said, referring to a Britsh-designed McMurtry electric car that uses twin fans to suck air from under the car and create additional downforce.
"That could be the next very disruptive tech for the mountain."
Past recipients of the Segrave trophy, first awarded in 1930 for "the most outstanding demonstration of transport by land, air or water", include seven-times Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton.
Hill climbs are one of the oldest forms of motorsport, with Britain's Shelsley Walsh dating back to 1905. The Aston Martin sportscar marque, founded in 1913, takes its name from Aston Hill in southern England.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Pritha Sarkar)