The 2020 Broadmoor Pikes Peak International Hill Climb was always going to be interesting, unlike any other in the race’s history. Starting with last year’s decision to no longer run motorcycles following the death of star rider Carlin Dunne, the event was already in historically uncharted waters. Then came the coronavirus and the announced postponement of the 2020 hillclimb, originally scheduled to run at the end of June.
With the race in limbo and most of the European competitors unable to attend due to various lockdowns, things were not looking good for this year. However, never underestimate race director Megan Leatham and her crew. A group of people who are able to put on a race with cars going 150 mph on the side of a mountain with 1,000-foot dropoffs is not going to let a little thing like a global pandemic stop them. On June 18 competitors got the news that the climb would indeed go ahead, but on August 30, and more important for us, without spectators.
This was bad news for many competitors (myself included) to hear. The diehard spectators that attend the hillclimb are some of the best spectators anywhere in the world. Many camp overnight and endure harsh weather that the mountain regularly brings to watch 100 of the dumbest people on the planet race flat-out up the highest paved road in North America. The reward for these fans’ perseverance? A chance to line the roadway and high-five every driver as we make the parade down from the summit after the last car has run.
Nonetheless, the show must go on, and go on it will. Here are several storylines to look for in this Sunday’s spectacle.
One of the big stories for everyone to follow this week was to be the Tesla invasion, led by Randy Pobst driving the wicked fast Unplugged Model 3. Randy had been quick in qualifying. The mountain is divided into three sections and groups run one section each day. Qualifying is held on the lower section. No one runs the entire course until race day.
Misfortune struck Unplugged’s Model 3 on its first to run on the upper section. Coming into the most accurately descriptive name for a corner — Bottomless Pit, named for the 1,200-foot vertical drop just the other side of it — Randy hit a serious bump in the braking zone that catapulted his EV through the air and into the low wall that saves the guys who get it wrong from certain death. Fortunately, that wall did its job and Randy walked away from the crash unscathed.
A second Model 3 driven by Joshua Allen met a similar fate in qualifying on Tuesday, going off at Engineers Corner, a sharp left-hand hairpin that follows a series of fast sweeping corners. It’s a corner that has caught out vet and rookie alike. Joshua suffered some fractures in the crash but is said to be recovering. However that — combined with Randy’s off — means there is just one Tesla remaining in the race. The lone Tesla is helmed by Blake Fuller, the first driver to race a Tesla to the top of the mountain, in 2016.
Another incident (hopefully the last) ended the 2020 event for Don Wickstrum, affectionately known as Pastor Don, “The Fastest Pastor.” Wickstrum lost the rear of his Porsche in the fast left hander called Sump Corner and flew off the road into a dry lakebed — the same lakebed where Pobst went off in a Nissan GT-R a few years back. Don seems to have made it through with no major injuries. Apparently being a pastor has its perks.
One of the great features of the hillclimb each year is the lineup of insanely cool cars that show up to take on the mountain, this year led by Porsche with a legendary group of cars piloted by an equally legendary group of drivers. Pikes Peak legend (and advertising commercial director) Jeff Zwart will be driving the new $850,000 Porsche 935, a creation that boasts acres and acres of long-tail carbon fiber. It’s one of the most stunningly beautiful racecars Porsche has put out in decades, and it sounds spectacular heading up the mountain. Jeff has had eight different class wins at Pikes Peak at the wheel of a Porsche, so you can never count him out.
Next in Porsche’s all-star lineup are a pair of GT2RS Clubsports driven by a pair of Davids—Donohue and Donner. Both drivers have a lot of family and personal success in motorsports. Donohue has been leading the Porsche parade with some seriously fast times throughout practice and looks to be the odds-on favorite to take the Time Attack 1 class — and possibly be in the fight for overall honors. However, Donner is not that far off, so look for the wily veteran to step up the fight come race day.
Continuing the Porsche parade is a fleet of Caymans that run in their own spec Cayman GT4 class. Several Porsche hotshoes are behind the wheel of these factory racecars, led by Nitro Circus’s Blake “Bilko” Williams. Pikes Peak seems custom-built for these nutters from Nitro. The Nitro crew has been led for the past few years by Travis Pastrana (who could not attend this year), a guy whose lack of fear and concern for personal safety is well documented. Bilko has been the quickest of the GT4s so far, but George Hess is not far off. Look for a tough fight between these two in the class.
In the Open Wheel Class, watch the battle between Paul Dallenbach (yes those Dallenbachs) driving his venerable garage-built 2006 PVA-03 Dallenbach Special and Clint Vahsholtz, driving a 2013 Ford Open. These two have been within seconds of each other throughout practice; either one could take not only class victory but an overall win as well.
Then there’s little ol’ me. I’m back in the Motul/ Bluewater Performance Audi S3 that I drove into rain, fog and hail in last year’s race, attempting to retake the front-wheel-drive record I ceded to Acura and Nick Robinson in 2018. So far we’ve been quicker than our times in practice last year and on pace to get the record back.
However, there is still a race to be run, and as the saying goes among Pikes Peak competitors, “The Mountain decides.”
Tune in for live timing of the race this Sunday, August 30th, and then keep your eyes peeled for Motor Trend’s two-hour special on this year’s race scheduled to air later this fall.