The second oldest race in America doesn’t need an introduction but, the intense week leading to race day does. This is my 16th consecutive year at Pikes Peak, and each year I’m blown away at what the competitors deal with to get to the line on race day. “Peak Week” starts with tech inspection on Monday mid day, this is the appetizer for what is to come. The rest of the week consists of practice with a 3:00am wake up call, cars leave the line around 5:00am. The main event is on Sunday where you arrive to the mountain at 1:30am, and the green flag flies at 7:30am. This wears on anyone, but add to that driving on the cliffs of Pikes Peak, I really don’t know how they do it. The drivers and teams really go through a lot to even get to the line on race day. This race is unlike any other.
Now I can truly only speak about the Peak from a photographer’s point of view, but even then, it truly is a bear of an event to cover. The early mornings are one thing, hiking at 13k+ feet is another. When you shoot above tree line there’s a totally different vibe. It’s colder, windier, sunburns happen quickly, and most importantly it feels like you’re breathing through a straw. One of the best ways to shoot practice and get sunrise shots is to park at Devil’s Playground, which sits at 12,780 ft, and hike down towards double cut, a series of hairpins that all have their own character. However, if you hike down, you have to make it back up. That hike back up is always a motorsport religious experience, or I should just exercise more. The sunrise up here is unlike any other, and if you’re lucky you can find yourself above a sea of clouds covering the town of Manitou Springs. Or on the other end, the clouds could swallow you up.
Following a general rule of thumb the temperature decreases ~3.5*F for every 1000ft gain in elevation. If it’s 75* down in town, that means it’s knocking on the 30*s at the summit. Colorado is known for changing weather and more specifically for afternoon thunderstorms this time of year. On the peak, weather changes even quicker. I have been caught out in more hail and snow storms on race day than I can remember. I’ve also been stuck in numerous brutal storms full of lightning. Devil’s Playground gets its name for the way lightning jumps about the area from rock-to-rock. The point is, you never know what to expect from the mountain and it really requires your respect, and that’s just from someone running around with a camera, giggling, not knowing how this race is even a thing. Despite how much of a hassle it is getting up at ridiculous hours all week, dealing with unpredictable weather, and hiking through snow to get the shot, there is nothing that beats the sound of the first car coming at you when you are right next to the road on your favorite corner. This is what old school motorsport is all about. Man and machine tackling the impossible despite what challenges lie ahead… or above.
This year I don’t think the PPIHC will receive the coverage it has on other years when there is a big name coming (with a big budget) to try and break the overall record. It was incredible to see Sebatien Loeb come as a rookie in 2013 and finish with a record shredding 8:13. Most thought this record would last for many years to come, then came Romain Dumas. Dumas came to beat the electric record and ended up taking the overall record with a mind shattering 7:57. Those years were very special and I’ve been lucky enough to be feet away from those cars at full pace (thanks Glucker). BUT, what makes Pikes Peak so special is that each year every single driver/rider is battling the mountain whether it be for breaking records or breaking personal bests. Each run truly is something special.