The 100th running of Pikes Peak was a race I couldn’t miss. I can’t think of many things I would knowingly commit to a week of 2:30 am wake-up calls and hiking with camera gear at 14,000 feet, but these cars on that mountain are exactly that. It’s all worth it when you hike up to the spot you plan to shoot from, in the dark, and you hear the first race engine fire up. At that moment, it’s clear that this is the place to be.
Each car gets a handful of runs on a practice morning, and you see a big difference in approach to these runs. Some drivers are still shaking down a car. Others attack right out of the gate. During practice, the mountain is split into 3 sections: bottom, middle, and top. Each is very different. The bottom section is fast and technical. In the middle it’s tight. And the top is fast and bumpy due to the freeze and thaw of asphalt in extreme conditions year around. They say Bathurst is “Monaco on the mountain”, well this is like Spa, Monaco, and the Nordschleife but climbing up almost 5,000 vertical feet, and instead of walls there are 2,000-foot cliffs just on the other side of the white line.
The drivers and teams that come to compete at the PPIHC are honestly crazy. Ignoring the danger of the road itself, the dedication it takes to race here is almost unmatched. Not only is there the obvious preparation for the event, but the week is also long and harsh. You never know what weather you will be met with or how many runs you will get if your competitors have issues on the road ahead of you. One thing that was said all week was, “the mountain decides”. After 4 days of mostly perfect weather during practice, race day was met with fresh show at the top, and fog with rain everywhere else. This is where the teams that compete in a race like this show their true colors. This was clearly a day where records wouldn’t be broken, and undoubtedly the weather was frustrating as it changed the course of this year. However, for the 100th running, I’m not sure there was a better fit. This mountain truly does decide, and what makes a race like this special is that each year you race the mountain, no matter what it provides.
There are so many takeaways from this year, and most of them are highlighting the challenge, dedication, and uniqueness of this race. It truly is unlike anything else. There is a sense of community in the pits. Motorsport legends race alongside local hotshoes, and the cars range from home-builds to factory-supported efforts. The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb always delivers. Let’s hope it’s around for another 100.
[Images courtesy of Stuart Cross – https://www.instagram.com/motionmotoring/]