After a week of thrashing on the car getting it setup during practice, Friday was our first day “Off.” It was time for Fan Fest, a big down-town Colorado Springs party with all the Pike’s Peak cars. Redbull had a moto-cross setup, along with their parachuters. Essentially, we take over downtown. This included Mike Ryan and his Frieghtliner driving on the sidewalk to get around a mass of parked trucks blocking the street. Frieghtliner don’t care, Frieghtliner doesn’t give a shit. He just takes what he wants.
During all this crazyness, Pikes Peak handed down the results from qualifying while everyone was setting up. I won’t get into the politics of this year’s race, there’s much better explanations of that elsewhere, but this was the start of some of the bigger issues in the race. Short-story is that despite the entire concept of qualifying, a lot of Haterade™ was spilled that night, and PPIHC retracted their disqualifications the next morning.
After we had setup the Sti and left Brianne to become famous, we started to walk around Fanfest. I still had Evolution Dynamic’s pyrometer probe, so I headed that way first. The person I happened to meet was Kevin DuBois, the car’s owner and builder. I talked to him for a good while about the car since a friend of mine was co-driving with them, and interestingly enough, about the roll cage in it. There had been a fair amount of discussion about the different cars in our class, and their cages (or lack there-of), so it was interesting to get a mechanical engineer’s perspective on everything. The cage was over-built for PPIHC Time-Attack rules, but who would’ve thought that all this theory would be put to the test?
Afterward, I went on with wondering around. One of the awesome things about Fanfest is simply how open the racers are to questions about their car. Bait them long enough, and you can see under the hood of most any of them too. We even poked at the Factory Honda team about the new NSX. While my friends were handling the technical questions, I finally had to ask the hard question,
“Is it going to kick the LFA’s ass?”
“I can’t say officially, but we hope so.”
After some time, we began bouncing around some of the shops and bars around Fanfest. It was in a specialty peanut butter shop that we would run into some folks from Chicago with a few Texas ties. I noticed his Dirty Impreza shirt, and started asking if he’d heard of Brianne or Texas Rally Sport. Sure enough, both of them did! And to top it all off, both were staying with Dave Carapetyan, fellow Texas Pike’s Peak racer (Unfortunately, his engine decided to kamikaze an oil pump in testing), friend of TRS, and who runs the rally school that Brianne teaches at. On top of all that, they both race Subarus in rallycross. The night finished off with more awesome food, Colorado beer, and a good mass of people.
Saturday was our last day to work on the car. It had to go park on the mountain that evening for Sunday’s race. Mostly it was a leisurely nut-and-bolt check of everything to insure that nothing worked loose during the week, as well as tweak a few more things from practice. We finally tracked down and fixed a cooling issue we had earlier in the week, caused by the system leaking pressure, just before loading it onto the trailer.
Raceday started like the rest of the week, except I got to sleep in until 3:30 am (Ooo-la-la). When we arrived at the base of the Pike’s Peak highway, traffic was backed up for miles onto the main highway. Thankfully, I had a crew pass… So… I just got to past all the peasants stuck in hours of traffic, and drive straight up to the pits.
I made my way up to where we had parked for day three of testing, just short of Devil’s Playground. Happened to park right behind my friend Anthony, who being a “spectator” had been there since midnight. We were eventually shuffled further uphill, and parked.
Texans should rarely be allowed on mountains. We sort of just… fell… down hill until we found a set of rocks that would hold a cooler, and keep us perched up with out the threat of causing another landslide. Everyone else had perched neatly up on different sections, with tents, fold chairs, Easy-Ups, all sorts of gear. We kicked rocks around until we found comfortable boulders.
Things fired up with the bikes leaving first. From our vantage point, we saw them roll past the toll gates, through the W’s, Double Cut, and up through the switchbacks before Devil’s Playground. A pretty wicked spot. The problem is, there were so many red flags through out the morning, we didn’t see many cars early on. Hell, my rock was so comfortable I took about an hour-long nap while Tajima’s electric car fire is put out. This would be the start of a bad trend for the day.
Eventually we wonder down to the first hair-pin entering Devil’s Playground, sitting on the inside. Fantastic spot for photos. Being that Devil’s Playground is one of the most popular spots for spectators, many drivers go for style through the section. This meant fantastic photos for me.
Slideshow link: http://www.flickr.com//photos/95001020@N00/sets/72157631070756654/show/with/7785651120/
Finally, the Time Attack had started to run. Millen’s car is stupid-quick, of course. “Only 800 horse power.” Kern and Yoshioka’s cars are also wicked-quick as they passed. Finally we (and when I say we, I mean myself, a few BCR friends, and several of Evolution Dynamic’s friends/team) start peeking cars that are friends of our’s coming up through the mountain. Most importantly, Evolution Dynamics Evo-8 was running. I had jumped from my spot on the inside of the hair pin to see them as they came into view for Devil’s Playground when… I saw the worst thing I could’ve expected. Evolution Dynamic’s Evo-8 had just come into view around a wide corner (for reference, in Brianne’s notes this corner is a “Left-4, flat”. On a scale of 1-6, 1 being a hair-pin, and 6 being a very slight turn. Flat meaning, FULLTHROTTLE) when it slid wide, and went straight into oblivion, sideways. Unlike most of the vidoes that you see of the wreck, where you can see at least some ground below, all we saw was the car disappear into sky; with no knowledge of what, if anything, was below. I wasn’t even sure to react. Not just my own reaction about seeing the car go off, but to everyone else’s reactions. Did we just watch someone die?
We run to the road side. I’m semi-relieved just to at least see the car. It had rolled a few hundred feet down a steep slope, and had fallen into an old rock-slide. We watched the car, and finally saw movement. Driver Jeremy Foley was able to get co-driver Yuri Kouznetov out of the car, and they were moving. Jeremy threw his hands up in celebration for a second, but quickly settled down. Yuri however seemed in rougher shape. From what I have learned, the two people who ran down to the car first were off-duty EMS, and quickly had both sitting on the ground, supporting their necks in-hand.
We had no idea what was going on. And for some reason, I found it a good idea to go down to the car to see what was actually happening with our friends. I worked my way down a few corners until I was at a similar elevation, and started to work sideways to the car. I was passing scattered parts everywhere. Suspension components, door skins, hood, random bits-and-pieces. The car had disintegrated down to just the rear quarter panels, roof line (the skin had torn off), front inner fenders, and cage. The cage was kicked over towards the driver’s side a few inches, from the initial hit on the side. What stood out the most to me was where the factory b-pillar had kicked in, pushing the NASCAR bars of the cage inwards about 6 inches, and pushing the passenger seat into the driver’s seat.
The car had taken an absolute mauling, but held up well enough that Yuri and Jeremy had both made it out alive, and in decent shape. PPIHC rescue had rappelled down by the time I was able to make it over. Both were pretty sharp when I got down there, able to say hi. Yuri’s arm had flown outside the car during the roll, and dislocated; Jeremy had a few neck pains. I mostly stayed out of the way, helped with info where possible and collected as much info as I could on their state as possible for everyone up top. PPIHC’s communications were terrible when it came to reporting accident information to the teams and spectators. Despite that though, I can’t praise their rescue team’s work enough, I saw nothing but a smooth machine at work. Jeremy was taken in an ambulance down the mountain, while Yuri was Life-Flighted over the concerns about his broken helmet.
I climbed straight up back to where Evo-D’s team was standing, using the rescue team’s rope because of how steep it was. There was a massive sigh of relief between everyone when they learned how relatively well things went.
It was sobering for certain. It took about an hour and a half for things to clear and continue racing. Unfortunately, by this time the bad weather had set in. It was sleeting while I was sitting in my car, waiting for the race to resume. Finally a few cars started to tear by. Sadly, this run group was filled with several of the smaller teams, most of whom had just slicks to run on. We came prepared with rain tires (And were hoping on some of the faster RWD cars getting stuck in rain too, giving us an advantage), and mounted them up for our run.
Finally, much to my relief, a familiar engine note filled the air. Brianne’s STi had made it to Devil’s Playground, and she was flying. With a rally and WRC background, the wet and loose track didn’t bother her much, and people took notice with the radio broadcast spilling praises about her pass.
After Brianne finished, three more cars would go off course after Devil’s Playground. They shortened the course to Glen Cove after this, so not a lot of action was left for us. We piled into cars for the exit, cranked up the heater, and waited.
The day had been long, wild, fantastic, scary, sobering; and absolute adventure. Brianne would place 5th, being the last car to make it up to the peak in the poor weather. While not first, she was given “Queen of the Mountain,” in the most suitable trophy you could make for a Texan: A large belt buckle! We eventually all made it to the hotel, to many hugs and hand-shakes. It turns out that in the poor weather, the windshield had fogged up entirely by the time she passed us at Devil’s Playground. She drove mostly blind on the last three miles. Co-driver Jeremy Rowland’s rally-notes became absolutely vital, and allowed her to still rip up the mountain. So rain, sleet, and fogged windshields did little to slow her. Madwoman indeed.
The next morning we slept in. Damnit, we deserved it! Everyone assembled for a group shot in front of the car, and we said our goodbyes as everyone departed for their return trip. My friend and I drove straight through the night back to Austin, making good time. We were able to call Yuri and talk to him for a good bit about the wreck. Him and Jeremy were cautiously optimistic about returning in the future, but it was good to hear first-hand how well they came out.
I got into town at 5am, mostly speechless about the week’s events. This is my first time to a professional event like this, and as I mentioned before, was a total life-goal. I could have never expected anything that happened here, even in the world of Pike’s Peak a lot of what happened was entirely unique. And on top of it all, I was able to experience all facets of racing at this level. Not just the progress of the car and team through the week, but of the emotional swing from a great race to a heavy scare. I summed things up in a tidy Facebook post before bed while still drunk from the experience,
“Just got home from Pikes Peak. To say that it was an adventure is an understatement.
I got to experience the absolute best, and some of the worst that the race can offer,
and I’m glad we all made it. Met a bunch of fantastic people on the way, and had a blast.
This last week has felt like a month. It’s been real, Pikes Peak.”
I can’t thank Brianne enough for the wild opportunity, and the rest of our crew for the fantastic adventure. This series is only a fraction of what I’ve learned and experienced, and I’m still processing everything as I return to reality.
However, this isn’t the end.