The entry list for the 99th running of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb was released on Friday, and there are some pretty exciting entries on there for this year. After the event was postponed in 2020, and it was limited to pretty much only American entries thanks to COVID-19-related travel bans, the game is back on in full swing for 2021. There are some cool new electric car entries, a few exciting returns, and holy shit is that a freakin’ IndyCar?
Best known as the 2009 Indy Lights champion, and the guy who very nearly won the Indy 500 as a rookie in 2011 before crashing into the wall on the final corner of the race and finishing second, JR Hildebrand will be bringing a 2021 Dallara DW-12/IR18 chassis to the peak. There is no announcement as to yet which team will be supporting the effort, or whether Hildebrand will be relying on Honda or Chevrolet power, but being that Hildebrand has run the last three Indy 500s with Dreyer & Reinbold and Chevrolet power it’s likely that will continue to be the case this year, including at the 99th PPIHC.
It’s clear that this is an effort for the all-time record at the mountain. The current record was set in 2018 by Volkswagen’s all-conquering ID.R electric prototype. The mountain has been fully paved since 2012 and the fastest times dropped consistently since then. The time to beat right now is 7:57.148 set by legendary driver Romain Dumas in that fast electric VeeDub. So how does Hildebrand’s Indycar compare?
Well, in race trim the current 2.8-liter twin-turbo V6 used in the series can produce as much as 700 horsepower. Without series restrictions, it’s possible that Hildebrand will have even more power than that to haul his open-wheel monster up the hill. That chassis in race trim weighs just around 1,600 pounds. By bolting on a high-downforce aero package and using some grippy red Firestone racing slicks, the car could have the grip, boost, and power-to-weight needed to beat the EV.
Consider the ID.R’s specifications for a second and you’ll see that the IndyCar could be a serious competitor for the overall time. Volkswagen’s electric prototype weighed in at a comparatively beefy 2400 pounds in Pikes Peak guise. Volkswagen says it was producing 500 kW or around 670 horsepower at the hill, but of course that could all be subterfuge.
In either case, the DW-12 chassis has a power and weight advantage. Of course the electric car isn’t susceptible to power reduction with altitude, as it doesn’t rely on oxygen to make its power. Turbocharged engines don’t suffer quite as bad from altitude power loss as a naturally-aspirated engine does, so maybe the lower sector advantage will be enough to carry Hildebrand through the upper segments.
Now, I probably wouldn’t put Hildebrand as being on-par with someone like Dumas. That’s no slight against JR, but Dumas has four Pikes Peak overall victories to his name. Hildebrand’s first time at the hill was 2018, where he ran in the Porsche Cayman GT4 spec class and finished second behind Travis Pastrana. A valiant effort, to be sure, but if he wants to win overall, and especially if he wants to take the record, he’ll have to really bring the heat.
Interestingly, Hildebrand is registered on the entry list as the #99 car, adding an extra little level of cool if the 99 car manages to win the 99th Pikes. This is going to be a good year to be a spectator, so if we could really increase this vaccine rollout so I can be there, that would be great. INDYCAR AT PIKES PEAK, LET’S GOOOOOOO!