The 100th Pikes Peak International Hill Climb starts this Friday. As it happens, the latest update to Gran Turismo 7 released this week brings back one of the greatest race cars of all time — at least for the in-game universe. The Pikes Peak Escudo was introduced in Gran Turismo 2 and, once unlocked, it dominated the game in almost comical fashion with its ridiculously massive spoiler and nearly 1,000 horsepower on tap.
Gran Turismo 2 debuted in 1999, and in those early internet day the actual Pikes Peak Escudo was not well known to most car enthusiasts. The race itself wasn’t covered much in car magazines, and Suzuki wasn’t a name synonymous with eyeball-flattening performance.
GT2 was a revelation of JDM gems, but if you were merely tangentially interested in Japanese cars back then you would have already heard of the tuned Skyline GT-Rs and JGTC Supras that the game introduced to the rest of the world. But nobody expected a Suzuki to destroy these legends without even breaking a sweat.
The actual car was just as insane. It was built for a single purpose, to charge up a 14.42-mile mountain road. Comprising 156 turns as the Pikes Peak hill climb twists its way up to 14,115 feet above sea level, much of it at the time just loose dirt with no guardrails. At the finish, the air is so thin that the simple act of walking can cause an average person to wheeze like they’ve been running a marathon.
Built by Suzuki and Nobuhiro “Monster” Tajima, the Escudo was powered by a pair of twin-turbo 2.5-liter DOHC V6 engines. One drove the front wheels and one drove the rear, for a combined output of 995 PS (981 horsepower) and 688 lb-ft of torque. Power was put down via a 6-speed sequential transmission to a bespoke AWD system.
It might not seem like it, but even back in 1999 true Japanese car enthusiasts cringed at the giant spoilers found on “tuner” Honda Accords and Mitsubishis. The Pikes Peak Escudo laughed sadistically in their faces with a wing that could double as a three-cushion sofa. It was taller and wider than the widebody race car itself, and paired with a front air dam that was seemingly just as absurd.
Suzuki never disclosed how much downforce these aerodynamic aids generated, but given the fact that the entire car weighed just 1,760 pounds as a result of its aluminum spaceframe, we’d bet that when run at full speed it could stick to Zebulon Pike’s mountain road even if it was upside down.
The craziest aspect of all this, however, is the fact that the Pikes Peak Escudo was ostensibly based on the Suzuki Vitara. Known in the US as the Suzuki Sidekick or Geo Tracker, a car that was mostly an afterthought if not outright mocked as a “hairdresser’s car”.
Monster Tajima was a former Nissan rally racer and had been competing at the Pikes Peak hill climb since 1989. Funnily enough, although Gran Turismo made the Escudo the most famous of Tajima’s cars, he never actually won the race with it. Tajima took his first overall victory at Pikes Peak in 1995 in a twin-engined Cultus (Suzuki Swift for Americans), and would drive the Escudo to three consecutive wins in a similar race in New Zealand called the Silverstone Race to the Sky from 1998-2000, an event that Tajima has won eight of the eleven times it was held.
The highest positions at Pikes Peak for Tajima’s Escudo were three second-place finishes in 1996, 1998 and 1999. From 2007-2011, Tajima would win the Pikes Peak hill climb five more times in a row, first with a modified Suzuki XL7 and then with a Suzuki SX4. In 2011, the final year before the course was completely paved, Tajima finally became the first driver to break Pikes Peak’s storied 10-minute barrier.
Despite these wins in other cars, it is the Escudo that has persevered in Gran Turismo games. It’s become a staple of the franchise, making appearances in almost every sequel, though gamers say that subsequent versions have not been as radically dominant. Like the real car, the in-game version was updated to a single-engine version and its programming advanced to better account for aspects like turbo lag.
For years the Escudo has been a mid-level car, but with the Gran Turismo 7 update it has gotten renewed attention. It will appear in the game with a rendered interior for the first time, and arrives alongside a Group 3 version of Suzuki’s Vision Gran Turismo concept roadster, a ’32 Ford hot rod, and the Watkins Glen track. Whether or not the Pikes Peak Escudo will rocket to the forefront again remains to be seen.