February 24th, 2009

The forgotten race?


Think about these facts for a second. 156 turns, 12.5 miles, an assent of over 1400 feet on a mix of loss gravel and tarmac in cars, trucks, motorbikes and quads on the edge of a cliff. Now wouldn’t that be a great race? Well it is!

Known as the ”Race to the Clouds” the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is fairly unknown to some motoring fans; which is surprising considering it is the second oldest sports race in America.

Every July over 200 competitors and thousands of fans head to the infamous Pikes Peak in Colorado, embarking on a week of partying and serious motoring action. Think Le Mans but more Jägermeister and YEEE HAH’s.

The race’s history goes back to 1916 and the layout of the race today has remained very much the same.

The race is simple. Cars racing start revving their engines at an altitude of 2,862m – the start line. Cars are released at timed intervals and whoever gets to the summit fastest wins. The course is made up of three sections, a high speed section at the bottom, a complicated twisty section in the middle, and finally the toughest section at the top; where plants can’t even survive after 3,660m. Competitors have to drive all three sections on mixed surfaces, some parts are hard gravel and others tarmac. No guard rails hug the mountain, which means that any mistake could be costly. This is action that keeps spectators watching all week long – the kind of action that F1 needs.

Altitude is a major problem which makes the race so unique.  Drivers have to prepare for a furious 10 minute workout while the air is getting ever thinner. The thinning air also has has an effect on the cars as engines are robbed of 30% of their power at the summit. To counter this almost all cars are 1000 horse power plus making them very rapid indeed. Pikes Peak race cars are instantly recognisable due to their massive aerodynamic aids. The spoilers on these cars make an Escort Cossie’s ‘Whale Tale’ look like a cocktail stick. The mammoth spoilers put on the cars and trucks are to make them more aerodynamically balanced,  or they could act as wings to provide the driver with a safe landing if he loses it at nearly 400o metres.

This year’s race has 11 classes and features a variety of automotive, semi truck, exhibition, open wheel, super stock car, pro truck and motorcycles. The highlight of the weekend is the oldest class, the Open Wheel division. It has been run since 1916 and has been won by such names as Mario AndrettiAl UnserBobby Unser, and Robby Unser (the current class record holder, achieving 10:05.85 min in 1994). The overall record is held by Nobuhiro “Monster” Tajima from Japan who clocked a time of 10:01.408 on July 21st 2007 driving the 1000 hp mid-engined Suzuki XL7 Hill Climb Special, breaking the previous record (set in 1994 by Rod Millen) by less than three seconds, halving the winning time in 1916 of 20:55.40, set by Rea Lentz.

So what are you doing the week of the 14th of July? Nothing? Well if you want some fun in the sun, pop over to Colorado to see some mean machines burn it up a mountain and have a bloody good party (they dig the British accent). If you have been hit hard by the economic downturn, buy a copy of  Colin McRae: Dirt and race to the clouds in your front room.

To show you how awesomely powerful Pikes Peaks cars are, take a look at Rod Millen’s Pikes Peak Toyota Tacoma blasting up our very British hill climb at Goodwood. Watch for how close he gets to nearly crashing into the back of the Bowler Nemesis at the end.

(Tip: Click the headline to get a full screen view of the post and vid!)