Last weekend saw the 100th running of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. It was a cold, wet, windy day, which made for slow times and tough photos, but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. For a federal holiday, I figured, why not share a few of the sights from that weekend?
A Taste Of The Ambiance
To start off, I wanted to give you a sense of just how dreary the weather was. Here’s an unedited photo, straight from the camera, of a Model S about to start its ascent. From maybe 50 feet away, this was all you could see: Two headlights, doing their absolute best to cut through the thick fog.
This race marked the first time a fifth-generation Integra had taken to any organized racing event, at least with official Acura backing. Paul Hubers ran a 13:06.931 in the car, narrowly edging out Raymund Guerreros’s 2008 Viper and Jonny Lieberman in a Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport.
Peeking Through The Crowds
Fans at Pikes Peak get much closer to the cars than most other racing events. If you’re a spectator down in the paddock, chances are you’ll have to move at least once to allow a race car though. It really contributes to the grassroots feel of the event.
Acura Forever Integra
The headlights are one of my favorite parts of the new Integra. I know they’re identical to the rest of the Acura line, but ever since the company got rid of the silver beak it’s been one of the better luxury automakers for styling.
I Told You It Was The Prototype
Way back in mid-June, I guessed that the Integra running up Pikes Peak was the same chassis as the original Integra Prototype the company revealed back in November. My guess was based on the yellow paint poking through from under the wrap, in the door jambs and inside the hatch release. Turns out, I was right — Acura representatives confirmed to me that they’re the same car. Intriguingly, inside the cut-away door cards this Integra appears to be deep red. What other uses has this chassis seen?
Rad Jackets Aren’t Exclusive To RADwood
In NASCAR or IMSA, pit crews all wear matching, branded fire suits. For Pikes Peak, crews just wear something warm enough to stave off the cold. If that just so happens to be an incredibly rad jacket, that just so happens to match your hair, go for it — there are no uniforms here.
Scoping Out The Competition
From this box, where drivers and crew get ready for their run, you can’t see the entire course. All you can do it look at the car ahead of you as it gets moving, and watch as it makes the first corner up towards the start gate. Is it slipping through that first left-hander, or has the pavement dried out enough to keep the pedal down? Up until the very last minute, you may not know.
The EV Cometh
One of the key defining features of Pikes Peak is its altitude. The start line is over 9,000 feet above sea level, and the course ascends another five thousand feet from there. At that altitude, engines are gasping for air and losing incredible amounts of power — even forced induction can’t perfectly negate the low pressure. To combat the lack of oxygen, some drivers (like Dai Yoshihara, pictured here) have made the move to electric hillclimb cars. Who needs air any more?
Lights Through Fog
Shooting this race, through fog like peanut butter, I wondered if any shots would actually be worth using. Turns out, catching a headlight streaking through thick fog rules. I will now be attempting to carry a fog machine to every press event, assuming they make bottles of fog liquid that are under three ounces.
No Burnout Necessary
The blankets you see on the wheels of cars staging for the climb aren’t just cloth. They’re powered, heated blankets, meant to get the tires up to temp before the green flag drops. I considered asking to borrow one, to throw under my media vest, but I didn’t think anyone would say yes.
Green Means Go
It does not, however, mean that your timer has started. The start gate, where your time up the hill starts being counted, isn’t until after the first corner. So if you stall out, as at least one driver did, it won’t hurt your time — just your pride.
No Record Runs
David Donner was aiming for a production car record in this Porsche 911 Turbo S Lightweight. His sights were set on Rhys Millen’s 10:18.488, set from the cockpit of a Bentley Continental GT. Donner didn’t make it, with the conditions limiting his time to a 10:34.053, but he did have the second-fastest time of the day.
Among Pikes Peak’s classes for competition, there’s a one-make series built around the Cayman GT4 Clubsport. This particular Advan-liveried car was driven by Loni Unser, the latest member of the Unser family to run the Race to the Clouds. She scored second in her class.
And The Winner Is
This GT4 Clubsport, driven by Cam Ingram, was the one that beat Loni Unser. Ingram drove the Porsche to a time of 11:22.691, over ninety seconds faster than Unser’s second-in-class time.
Pikes Peak’s rules allow for some pretty wild aero in the Open class, and this E36 took full advantage. Wide fenders and an even wider splitter and wing combo kept the M3 truly grounded to the ground for its ascent.
W i d e
You can see, based on the curves in the fenders, where a normal E36's body would end. This one goes just a little bit further than that.
Teach An Old Dog New Tricks
An E36 is a relatively modern car, but that’s not a requirement for Pikes Peak competition. This ‘67 Camaro lost out to the M3 by just over two seconds, but was faster through the tight uphill section. It seems the old timers still have a thing or two to teach the young guns.
Back in the sixties, even muscle cars had substantial ground clearance. This one’s been modified to a slightly more modern look. Just slightly.
Adult Owned, Never Raced
This Civic was on track to set a competitive time up the hill, but didn’t make it all the way. With William Au-Yeung behind the wheel, it set quick times through the first, second, and third sector. In the fourth, however, fate intervened, and the Civic never set a full-course time.
Ready To Roll
At the start of the race, however, the Civic looked mean. As it rolled up, I mentioned to Larry Chen that it wasn’t helping my simmering desire to own one of these Si coupes. I pulled up Marketplace immediately upon getting back to the hotel.
Rather than being grouped up with the rest of the paddock, this Porsche 935-19 sat right outside the spectator gate until its turn in the prep box. Right out in the crowd, directly across from the food truck, so every fan waiting for their food could gawk at the single-seat slantnose.
Just Like The Ocean Under The Moon
The 935-19’s styling is smooth, without oval headlights to interrupt the airflow around the car. In back, its long tail keeps the air from getting too turbulent as it leaves the chassis. It may have a fixed rear wing and front splitter that would never appear on a roadgoing Porsche, but in comparison to some other Pikes Peak cars, the aero is downright tasteful.
Keep It Clean
But, Porsches can’t escape Porsche owners. This one was continually getting dried off by crew members with microfiber towels as it waited to run the hill. No one busted out a bottle of Meguiar’s, but maybe that came at the top of the mountain.
Not All Euro Is Fancy
According to the Pikes Peak times, this E30 was a genuine M3. Given how modified it is, though, it could easily have started life as a lower-tier car. Once you have a turbo dump pipe exiting out the hood, it doesn’t really matter if your chassis started as a Real M Car or not.
Evo Mourner At Evo Corner
The Mitsubishi Lancer Evo is one of the more famous cars to climb Pikes Peak, after Jeremy Foley’s 2012 crash. Luckily, no such incidents occurred with this Evo X as it passed through Devil’s Playground and up to the summit.
More Fun Colors On Race Cars
When was the last time you saw a race car decked out in purple and pink? Race teams, this one’s on you. We need more purple race cars, and we need them now. Chelsea DeNofa spent years doing all the work, it’s time for the rest of you to share the load.
Your Friend’s Friend’s Subaru
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A 2010 to 2014 WRX sedan, in World Rally Blue, with a big wing out back and I-Can’t-Believe-They’re-Not-TE37s on each corner, tuned for E85. As a teenager in New England, this was every car at every Walmart parking lot meet.
It’s All In The Preparation
Pikes Peak is unforgiving. The altitude, the twists and turns, and the unpredictable weather make it a joy and a terror to drive. For crews, the duties of the job come long before the gas pedal hits the floor — prepping tires, brakes, suspension, and making thousands of little tweaks to wring every tenth of a second out of their chosen chassis.
Type S Is For Sfast
This TLX was piloted by Justin Lumbard, who spent a chunk of the prior day as my co-driver, guiding me up the hill in a bone-stock Integra. The TLX, with a pro behind the wheel, managed a slightly better time than I did in traffic. Only slightly, though.
Moments Of Peace
Before a car moves up to the green flag, it can spend minutes just sitting, waiting for the prior competitor to start their climb. For crew, that means it’s time to warm the tires, check pressures, and get ready to see the car off. For the driver, it’s all focus — the calm before the storm.
On Gray Days
Solid-line DRLs look so cool through fog, y’all. Why does every press event not include heavy, dense fog at the start line for photographers? I’m writing to my congressperson about this.
This is it. No one ahead of you, no more gates to pass. Just you, a steering wheel, some pedals, and a road entirely obscured by fog. Ready?
A Totally Normal Tacoma
Rod Millen, father of production-car record holder Rhys, showed up to Pikes Peak with an extremely normal Toyota Tacoma pickup. The most normal, in fact. I think it must have been his tow vehicle.
They’re All Like This From The Showroom Floor
I’ve seen a Tacoma or two in my time and they’re all exactly like this. You can see, in its run up the hill, that it’s entirely showroom stock. Nothing weird about it at all.