MATT MULLINS BMW HYBRID TRIUMPH ON PIKES PEAK
Colorado Springs, CO – Pikes Peak – America’s Mountain is an automotive proving ground like no other. Almost from the beginning, manufacturers have sought to test their best on the 12.42 mile course. In 2023, BMW presented the XM Label to the world by showcasing what it could do on the mountain.
North Carolina’s Matt Mullins, a two time Parade of Champions driver, brought his best to compete in the 101st Running of the Broadmoor Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, brought to you by Gran Turismo.
Mullins grew up going to races at Rockingham Speedway and loved drag racing. After college he answered an ad in On Track magazine that said, “Learn to race in our series for free”. Traveling cross country from North Carolina to California, he entered a mechanic’s training program at the Jim Russell School where he fondly recalls, “I got to work for a year, for no pay, at Laguna Seca…but I also got to drive the cars!”
Mullins first recalls learning about the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb when he was teaching at the same driving school and racing in NASCAR. “I remember seeing Michele Mouton and Bobby Unser in the Audis. That was when the mountain was a dirt course. It just looked amazing! Then, about thirty years ago I worked on a program with Ride and Drive where people could take a new model car out on the track. Paul Dallenbach, David Donner, and Johnny Unser were on the team and they all kept talking about Pikes Peak.”
His driving career expanded to stunt driving. He has performed as a SAG/AFTRA driver for more than 25 years, including notable work in Talladega Nights, Herbie: Fully Loaded and Ford vs Ferrari.
For the last 12 years, Mullins has been the Chief Driving Instructor at BMW Performance Driving Schools in Thermal, California; Greer, South Carolina, and Indianapolis, Indiana.
Parade of Champions Lead Driver
BMW North America through Winslow BMW of Colorado Springs has provided top competition models to lead the drivers back down the mountain at the conclusion of the race in the Parade of Champions.
Mullins represented BMW in 2021 and 2022 as the lead driver in the procession back to the Start Line.
After two years in that role, Rhys Millen asked Mullins, “When are you going to run it for real?” Mullins shared, “Fortunately, the right opportunity lined up with the new XM Label. We all talked about trying the hybrid technology on Pikes Peak. You know, you get a taste of it, and whatever weird kind of pull that mountain has on you, it just draws you back.”
With the help of two-time King of the Mountain, Rhys Millen, the production XM was prepped for Pikes Peak. Specs for the electric hybrid XM Label included All Wheel Drive, a 122″ wheelbase on a stock frame, weight of 6,000 pounds, and a BMW 4.4L Turbo.
- Removed all interior seats, panels and trim
- Added a custom racing seat and harnesses
- Built a full 6-point roll cage
- Installed on-board fire suppression system
Fun Fact: Race #738 is a nod to the BMW’s horsepower
Proving the XM Label
Originally the plan was to obtain a closed-course Certified Course Time during a private testing session. After successful testing at Willow Springs, the team felt the hybrid XM would be up to the task and began looking at testing days in May and June. But the best laid plans were set aside when late spring snow, day after day, made the upper part of the course far from optimal.
Despite canceling the initial private course testing, BMW entered the XM in the 101st Running of the Race to the Clouds with their eye on the Official PPIHC Production SUV record of 10:49.902 set by Rhys Millen in 2018 in the Bentley Bentayga.
“We wanted to know how the car would perform. BMW has never done anything like this with a hybrid. We tried to get a run up the mountain before race week, but couldn’t. We were comfortable with the runs we had in at Willow so we felt good about it making a full run up the hill,” Mullins explained.
Down, but Not Out
Race day dawned with clear skies and warm temps. Behind the wheel, Mullins was ready. The XM Label looked and sounded strong as Mullins took the green flag from Neil Moreno, XM Campaign Manager for BMW North America.
However, just moments into his run, hopes for a race record were cut short when Mullins carried too much speed into a corner and couldn’t bring the 6,000 lb. beast back under control. The XM struck a tree and rolled, landing on its wheels. Though the car was damaged, Mullins returned to the pits unscathed.
Mullins and BMW knew they had unfinished business on the mountain. Once they sourced a new XM Label, a private test day was scheduled. On September 21, 2023, Mullins strapped in behind the wheel and roared to the summit in 10:48.60, achieving their goal. While Rhys Millen still holds the race record of 10:49.902, the XM Certified Course Time showcases BMW precision engineering and proves they have what it takes to challenge the mountain and come out on top.
GET TO KNOW MATT MULLINS
Three Things For Fans To Know:
“I’m an Eagle Scout.”
“I hold two Guiness World Records, one for the longest continuous drift, and the other, along with Johan Schwartz, also a past PPIHC competitor, for the longest tandem drift.”
“The first car I had was one that my dad won in a drawing. It was a 1984 Ford Escort Station Wagon. It had fake wood paneling and a 4-speed transmission. So, I got a brand new car when I turned 16 because my mom couldn’t drive a manual shift.”
Any mentors on Pikes Peak? “A couple actually. Rhys Millen who is a legend there. Paul Dallenbach and David Donner. Rhys really talked to me about the build from a safety perspective, shared his course knowledge, advised me on tire selection, and guided me through the process.”
What was your favorite section? “I’m still learning, so it changes a bit. I took to the middle section pretty quickly.”
What section challenged you most? “The top, for a couple of reasons – there are some really fast corners, plus few reference points since you’re up above the tree line. And some of the top section is so bumpy.”
Favorite track? “Oval – Charlotte Motor Speedway; Road Course – Laguna Seca. I spent a lot of time racing both of those tracks.”
What’s different about racing on Pikes Peak? “Everything! First, all practice happens before most people are up in the morning. You’re up at 3:00am, roll right out, make runs in your section and you’re back down and done by 9:30 or 10:00am. You never get to see the entire course until race day. Second, the weather and how quicky it all changes. Third, and this is the amazing part, everyone is so supportive of each other. Since the cars go one at a time, everybody genuinely wants all the other competitors to do absolutely the best they can do. Plus, the variety of cars is so crazy. Then there was the year we had the mama bear and cubs in the pits, up in the tree…it’ s just completely different from any other motorsports event. There’s nothing at all like it.”
Choose any BMW model you’d like to race on the mountain: “The first one that comes to mind is the M3 that James Clay has. It’s amazing. Or, maybe a future M car…we’ll see.”
BMW presents Peak Power, a two-part documentary taking you behind the scenes of the fastest Hybrid SUV on Pikes Peak.
Photos by: Larry Chen, Leif Bergerson, Charles Zhao, Luis Garcia, Jason Zindroski, Matt Mullins, Rupert Berrington
Communications Manager / Historian