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Pikes Peak 2012 – Part 2: Donuts, Millens, 3am practice, and a Mountain.

In Part One, I spoke about the act of simply getting to Pikes Peak. Well, now I’m here and it’s time to get down to business.

A.D.D. is a really terrible thing to have when you walk into tech inspections for Pike’s Peak. While the truck and trailer park well inside the confines of the Pike’s Peak International Raceway (PPIR) paddock, I had to park outside. Once I got my eyes on some of the machinery inside, however, I quickly forgot to look for where we had parked. Glorious machinery as far as my eyes could see. Still with out my Nikon battery, I whipped out the iPhone and got to work. ‘Cuda, classic Ford Mustangs (many, actually), Falcon, gaggle of classic 911s and even a 912 with a built motor, old school Quattro, mysterious small-block-Chevy-powered Lister, hill-climb Frieghtliner, race cars, budget builds, near-stock, stock-cars, prototypes… Everything was present, everything was wicked, and I bounced around the paddock loosely looking for our race trailer while peeking at it all.

I did eventually find my way back to the trailer in time to help unload the car, and start rolling towards registration and tech inspection. Other than a mix-up with co-driver registration, the process was smooth. Finally it was official, I am a part of the race. After that, our car was waiting for tech, so I wandered around some more. It’s dangerous for my productivity to be let loose around racecars. Just sayin’.

It was while I was wandering around that I got a call. In our shop adventures back in Texas, it turns out that the iPhone 4’s camera and light location on the phone make it really handy for poking around tight spots that you can’t see. We’ve used the phone kind of like a boroscope. This time, we needed to see cage welds between the roof and cage. The car’s cage is not new; it has an SCCA logbook since 2005, and raced Pikes Peak last year with no issue, but it had two small areas of incomplete welds that were discovered in tech. Less than a quarter inch or so on each end of the upper diagonal tube. Brianne talked her way into using PPIR’s shop and welder to touch up the cage. Spy with iPhone, melt some metal, spy with iPhone, melt some metal, repeat. The rear weld was the most interesting, as it required us to yoga into the “back seat” between all the other cage bars, and weld up. We roll the car back over to tech, get the OK, a fancy PPIHC 2012 sticker for the door, and we’re done!

Scion had setup an autocross-ish course off to the side to demo the new FRS, but opened it up to racers after they were done for a little testing and tuning. We let Brianne loose for her first run with the car at-speed since it was rebuilt. We knocked out a few kinks with Jason and Ryan of Vorshlag (our masterminds of setup), but only had time to make minor camber adjustments, and adjust the rear sway bar before rain started to fall.

It was time to take the car back to the hotel. Brianne’s brother and I ran to a local Subaru dealership to rotate around tires and wheels to get everything mounted on what we wanted. We Loaded up two cars worth of Hoosiers and wheels, and ran to Heuberger Subaru to get everything done.

While tires were being busted, we started talking to them about the race. Turns out, they used to have a parking lot party for the Pike’s Peak racers. They’d open up their shop for work, BBQ for the teams, and generally have a good time. Something about customer cars being ignored, oil changes not getting done, stuff like that are the reason why it’s no longer done. I think that a parking lot full of racecars must’ve been cooler. Who knows?

We ended this night of setup rather early. Tomorrow morning was the first day of testing, and the start of our insane 2:30 am wake-up time for the week.

It’s time to discuss my special role on this team; data logging. Tire pressure, intercooler temps, radiator temps, and most importantly for setup; inner tire temps. The tire temperatures are taken with a tire pyrometer, essentially a pen-sized thermometer with a needle that goes into the tire to measure temps inside then reports and stores data in a wired, handheld box. Jason and Ryan would take that data, along with Brianne’s feedback to make adjustments to the car.

The next morning, we collectively groan into motion at 3 am, and make our way to the base of Pike’s Peak. This hill climb runs practice by splitting the road into three sections. On the first day, we were placed in the top section, from Devil’s playground to the finish. On my very first day, and I get to see the peak. The GPS shows 14,100 feet.

Pikes Peak racers have a unique opportunity. Typically, the visiting hours for the peak are limited by the tollroad accessing it. Really the only people who see the sunrise from the peak are those who work at the peak store, and Pikes Peak racers and teams. The first day on a mountain (in my life), and I watch the sun rise over Colorado Springs. Just one of those tiny little moments that are unique to the race.

Right as the sun rose over the mountain though, the symphony of engines start down hill. I get seconds away from setting up my camera when this random red Subaru… Oh that’s our Subaru! I quickly scramble out to the car with the pyrometer and some paper to start taking data. It was a pretty disorganized start. I enlisted the help of a friend, Anthony, who came up with me to measure the tire pressure, and intercooler and radiator temps, but I was still scrambling to write down everything in an organized fashion so that they could take the data back down hill and do setup. Eventually, everything is noted, and after talking with Brianne for a second, we wander around to check out some of the other cars in our class. Our biggest concern was Rhys Millen, and his 800hp Hyundai Genesis Coupe. Eventually we get to talking to him while his one-man crew is doing the same job as I was. Rhys was very, very happy with the car as he talked to his crew.

“This thing is fast, it’s only about 10 seconds off my unlimited car last year.”

“It’s not running right, it’s only getting 6-7 psi of boost”

“Yeah? It’s still fuckin’ faaast”

Later on, the Rhys’ crew would fall asleep in his truck in between runs. Rhys drove up next to the truck, revving. He ended up getting out of the car, and knocking on the window with a wild smirk. Who knows what magical words were said, but the his crew stayed outside of the truck, in the cold, for the rest of the morning to stay awake. He also gave us donuts, which was pretty wicked.

We meet several other Time-Attack and Unlimited drivers before they head back down. Next up the mountain were the Open-Wheel cars. Think F1 cars for the dirt. Probably my favorite class there, they were always sideways, all had strange engine choices (Ford SHO motors were common among one group), and all were very open to talk about their mad machines.

Through out the day, I got smoother at my job. The tweaks to suspension were starting to work, and good times were being put down. At the end of practice, the open wheel cars were the last ones up. They were given the clear to coast down hill, and right as the last car rolled down, I was given the clear.

Wait… How close to the open wheel cars am I leaving?

So… unintentionally, I’m following open wheel cars as they “coast” downhill, which is still a quick pace. Oh, what a time. Not only were we allowed down the mountain on a closed road, but doing so pacing behind race cars. I put on my pretend racecar mode, and slapped the Focus into SPORT mode. Awww yeah. Basically, it was creep around corners for fear of my life (The car had already been on a race track, I knew what happened when the brakes were cooked… ahem), but chase the open wheel car down the straights, with enthusiastic downshifts at the end. The best part was down certain straights where photographers would line up. The open wheel cars would coast at highway speeds down these sections, which make for good photos.

We could see the photographers as they shot the open wheel cars. Open wheel car, click. Open wheel car, click. Open wheel car, click… Ford Focus..? The lame photographers put down their camera. The awesome ones had the same shit-eating-grin we did, and started snapping pics and throwing thumbs up as we redlined the Focus on every upshift. Again, one of those unique little chances.

The rest of the day was spent playing wih setup, trying to dial the car in.

Day two of testing was held on the lowest section, from the start up to Glen Cove. When the cars started rolling in, I noticed a guy on the last corner with a radar gun. Curious, I walk over to go check him out after tire temps were done. Brianne, Rhys, and Jamie Melhuish in his ’95 M3 were the last cars to come around. Out of curiosity, I ask him about the cars.

“Ah, yeah, the red Subaru was 53 mph”

“What about Rhys?”

“The same, actually, 53 mph”

At that point the white M3 comes around,

“And…. 57 mph.”

Cool stuff. I start talking to the gentleman some more, starting to pick up on his accent..

“How long have you been coming to Pike’s Peak?”

“Oh, since about 81”

“Pretty awesome…. ever raced it before?”

“Oh, well… I’ve held the record for thirteen years.”

“Rod Millen!? No way!”

I hadn’t even recognized him, and he’s one of my favorite racers. And there I was, just randomly talking to a Pike’s Peak legend. We talked for a bit as he gunned some of the open wheel cars.

“How’s the car running? I saw that yesterday it wasn’t making full boost.”

“We’ve fixed, now it’s working allright.”

“How much power does it make now?”

“At this altitude… only about eight-hundred-horse-power.”

Only. 800. Horsepower.

I asked him to sign my crew pass, shook hands, and he was on his way uphill to the next starting line. Day two was cut short. There were several off-track excursions that prevented us from getting all three runs in. The only drama was that half-way up, an intercooler line popped off, and we lost boost. I ran uphill to the Unlimited/Vintage guys and borrowed a socket set from the Lister team. The Evolution Dynamic’s pyrometer had quit working, and I had accidentally broken the probe needle on mine… so we combined forces and used their probe with our good pyrometer box for the next two days. Evolution Dynamics also sported a friend of Texas Rally Sport, Yuri Kouznetsov (Of the “Cosworth” red Focus rental fame) as co-driver.

Really the only quibble about the day was that this was the qualifying section, and our fastest time on the first run wasn’t the best. Cold tires, still working on setup (Car was lifting a tire in some corners), and then the second run losing boost meant that we qualified mid-pack.

I was shooting photos on the last run for the unlimited and open wheel cars. The RS200s had a rough week, the white one faced many reliability issues, and the black one snapped an axle on launch. On the last run however, both made it up. The white one was sick, and creeped up. However, the black Monster RS200 was flying. I send my camera into machine-gun-mode right as it starts to enter antilag.




I happened to be in a perfect spot when it spit flames. When I went to review the photos, unsure if I had actually caught the flames, I… probably squealed like a girl at seeing the shot. I was pretty excited. It goes down as one of my favorite photos that I’ve ever taken.


Back at the hotel, it was a busy day. A few big changes were made in setup, and we started trying to track down a braking problem. We believed it was the ABS that was freaking out, sending the electronically controlled center differential, DCCD, into full-lockup. The brakes were working horribly, and she could tell that the DCCD wasn’t working as usual. The car had its ABS disabled back in its road racing days, before Brianne bought it, so we had no idea what was done. Pretty sure ABS electronics work on voodoomagic, we couldn’t find a straight answer on diagnosing it. Eventually we trailered it into Heuberger Subaru again, and had them clear the codes. After that, straight for PPIR.

Keith of AWD Tuning, the engine builder, did some work on the valve timing to help widen the power band in boost while we double checked the setup. We turn Brianne loose and start taking tire temps again. Once more, it’s pushing. While playing with the car, another racer who was testing at PPIR (In a supercharged “Chevy Colorado,” it was some wild beast.) helped us out with some setup ideas. More toe in rear, readjust camber, take off the rear sway bar and send her back out. Now things are starting to look better. Even the brakes and DCCD quit going mental. We called it a day at that point, and headed on back.

Day three was the middle section, Glen Cove to Devil’s playground. This area is probably my favorite, you have the best view of a massive section of course. Things were going well during practice too so things get fuzzy on what we did, and when. There was a spring-swap at some point, both sway bars were disconnected (in order to allow maximum wheel travel), but everything was finally working quite well.

Talking to Brianne after running temps. Thanks PTech Photography for the shot!

The day ran pretty flawlessly, allowing enough time to even do exhibition runs, a 4th practice run for the day. Brianne decided not to run it (we started to have minor cooling issues, cap not sealing), so Anthony and I went to watch the vintage and exhibition cars launch. Wickedness, wickedness everywhere.

We finished up the day at the hotel at a more relaxing pace. Tomorrow was Fan Fest, and we had all day to work on the car. A San Marcos, Texas motorcycle rider and Pikes Peak racer, Craig Gleason,came over with us for a few beers. I got a pretty awesome signature for cooling his Chimay.

Practice was over. We had qualified middle of the pack due to the issues in day two, but our times were getting drastically better as Brianne could “trust the car” and drive it harder. Tomorrow was Fanfest, Saturday was a mild work day to prep the car, and Sunday was race day. 

Tech Inspection Photos:

Practice Photos:

PTech Photography