Rhys Millen: “UTVs Enhance The Experience of Rallying”
There’s not much in the world of off-road that Rhys Millen hasn’t accomplished in his illustrious career. From stage rally to rallycross, drifting to stunt driving, the feats that young drivers might dream of accomplishing are all in a day’s work for Millen and his talented Rhys Millen Racing squad. Their feats include wins in everything from the Baja 1000 to the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, and Millen’s IMDb page includes countless credits in commercials and feature films.
This weekend, though, Millen returns to his rallying roots as a part of the Rally America National Championship. Joining the UTV Turbo class at Rally Colorado, Millen will undoubtedly be a fan favorite and a popular pick to post fast times. Today, he reflects on why RMR has invested so heavily into the UTV space, competing with his one-time Global Rallycross teammate Stephan Verdier, and where he expects UTV Turbo drivers to rank in the final running order:
First things first: we’re incredibly excited to have you at Rally Colorado! What inspired you to enter this weekend’s event?
Colorado is a special state for me, having raced there pretty much every year since I was 19 at Pikes Peak. Having the opportunity in my younger years to race Pikes Peak when it was all dirt, having run the Lands End Hill Climb at Grand Junction, and being a fan of the gravel roads and the natural terrain that the Colorado mountain scape has to offer have been the enticing factors for me to enter Rally Colorado.
What can you tell us about the particular UTV that you’re bringing this weekend?
We broke into the UTV space about four years ago, and it’s a big part of our daily business with desert racing. Traditional stage rally is fairly new, as of 12 or 18 months ago, for UTVs being accepted into it. The vehicle that we’re bringing is based on the two-seater Polaris Turbo, but it will offer several of the products that we sell to retail customers in a package that is very worthy of a diverse amount of driving in different terrains.
You’ve had plenty of success in other racing disciplines with a UTV. What makes rallying a good fit for these vehicles?
We won the Mint 400 at the start of this year, we won the Baja 1000 a couple of years ago, and we’ve had other successes and podiums at other events in desert racing. Desert racing does offer a variety of driving skill and setup of vehicle that is required. For me, the UTV platform is really the valuable point of going rallying. The purists of rally that are in their specific-built cars need to look at UTVs with open eyes and embrace them as not the vehicle taking away from traditional rallying, but enabling first-timers with a contact point to enjoy the style of driving that is rally.
Over and above that, what a UTV really offers you is a diverse platform that you can go to Baja, short course racing, to the dunes, trail riding, and rallying with. And that, for me as a driver, is why we’re invested into this space. You can have your teenager drive it, you can have your wife drive it. You can drive it at five miles an hour and have fun, or you can drive it at 90 miles an hour and have fun!
I think for the general purpose of relating them to this specific event, every competitor that has run a rally before or is experiencing rally as a rookie has been inspired or enticed by watching videos of WRC events or having some sort of connection to a favorite driver. And the driving experience is possibly more on par to a WRC car than 90 percent of vehicles rallying currently in the US. The suspension is far superior, the weight shift and power delivery from a rolling 15 miles an hour to 70 is more on par, and it just enhances the driving experience that is rallying.
You’re joining your former Global Rallycross teammate and good friend Stephan Verdier on the entry list. What’s it going to be like out there when the two of you are facing off and comparing times?
I guess there’s two ways to look at it! First is, again, the point of entry—we’re not bringing a WRC car, we’re bringing the performance of a WRC car in an obtainable point of contact. Again, it’s about the driving experience, passion for handling a car and attacking these roads in this manner, and this is what the vehicles provide us.
Stephan and I had the opportunity to do Frazier Mountain Rally last year, and we finished 1-2 overall, and on the last stage I think it was down to one or two seconds. I was in my big, heavy desert car, and he was in his more rally-purpose UTV, but this time I’m not going to give him that sort of advantage! We’re both bringing literally identical setup cars—same suspension, same engine, everything. The exciting thing is, the last stage, again I think there was a second and a half or two seconds between us, and we both turned an identical time to the hundredth of a second. So we are very competitive. We have been teammates, and he partnered with me on the Baja win in the UTV.
It doesn’t matter what your background is or what your daily income is—if you make a small amount of money, you can afford to go racing, or if you make a large amount of money, you can afford to go racing. The UTV space is making the experience of rallying obtainable, and that’s really what we’re approaching this event with: getting out there and having fun. So again, it really comes down to a point of contact that enabled you to live out your dreams, or in my case keep going, and enjoy the passion that is driving.
Finally, there have been plenty of people whispering about UTVs ever since their presence was confirmed in Colorado, saying the UTVs might be the fastest overall vehicles in the event. You may be going out for fun, but when all is said and done, where do you expect to be?
I think every vehicle has its place to be competitive. We saw that in GRC, where the Lites cars might be equal in times to the Supercars. If the course allows for one particular type of vehicle to be competitive, I guess that’s where you go as a competitor! I wouldn’t be entering Olympus in a UTV, because I know the average stage speed is very, very high. But placed on the right road and in the right environment, UTVs will be very, very competitive, and that’s part of why I’ve entered this event. I feel that the description of the roads that was provided to me is a perfect placement for this type of vehicle.
So to answer your question, yes, barring a mistake on mine or Stephan’s part, it would not surprise me if both of us were at the sharp end of the field on times. At Frazier, we had a stage run multiple times, and we broke the nine-mile stage record by one minute against Open class rally cars! That’s the fastest Open class car that had held the record for the past couple of years—on a nine-mile stage, we beat that time by one minute. So it’ll be interesting to see for sure.
But again, I can’t stress enough that at no point should the other competitors look at these vehicles in these negative light. It’s just extending the opportunity to a greater market to come to rallying and enjoy the type of driving that rallying is. Desert racing, I’m only driving 70 percent. In rallying, you have to drive 100 percent, so I’m excited to push myself. Outside of Pikes Peak, I don’t get to push myself all year long.