Internal combustion takes top spot this year, but won’t stay for long

Over the weekend, France’s Romain Dumas secured his second career victory at the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, becoming the first driver in history to take wins at Pikes Peak and Le Mans in the same season. After qualifying first in the running order, Dumas posted a time of 8:51.445 in the 2016-spec Norma M20 RD (Unlimited Division), averaging more than 81 mph over the 12.42-mile, 156-turn race course. Dumas’ sub-9-minute time is the second quickest in the event’s 100-year history, bested only by Sebastien Loeb’s otherworldly 8:13.878 from 2013.

Nipping at Dumas’ heels was a pair of entries from the Electric Modified class – Rhys Millen (Drive eO PP100) and Tetsuya Yamano (Acura NSX EV Concept), with a time of 8:57.118 and 9:06.015, respectively. Further back in the field, Layne Schranz (2015 Chevrolet SS) finished first in the Open class (9:53.071), Clint Vahsholtz (2013 Ford Open) finished first in the Open Wheel class (9:54.050), David Donner (2013 Porsche GT3R) finished first in the TA1 class (10.00.813), and Nick Robinson (Acura NSX) finished first in the TA2 class (10:28.820).

For the complete race results, click here. You can also find more info on the event in our preview here.

Dumas’ impressive back-to-back wins in Colorado and France shouldn’t be downplayed, but the real story from this year’s PPIHC has to be from the Electric Division. One look at the time sheet reveals just how close Millen and the eO came to defeating Dumas’ internal-combustion-powered Norma (5.673 seconds), which is remarkable when you consider the speed with which EV racers have taken to the Pikes Peak podium.

In just a few short years, all-electric speed machines have settled in as the cars to beat at America’s Mountain, heralding the real EV Revolution. But why Pikes Peak, and more importantly, why now?

Continue reading for the full story.

Electric Power Nearly Clinches Its Second Win

Pikes Peak – Birthplace of the REAL EV Revolution
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I know, I know… “winning is winning.” It’s a maxim that’s true in any motor race, from the dramatized action of Hollywood, to real-life multi-million dollar pro series, and unfortunately for Rhys Millen and the Drive eO PP100, electric power simply didn’t have what was needed to win in 2016.

Of course, it wasn’t for lack of trying. Millen still managed to grab the class win and set a new Electric Division record this year, becoming the first EV pilot to break the 8-minute barrier at Pikes Peak.

Nevertheless, Millen feels he could have gone even faster and taken overall victory, which isn’t all that surprising considering his result in 2015. His biggest complaint this year was a lack of grip balance, which was the result of higher-than-expected ambient temperatures (delays put the eO on the starting line later than originally scheduled). The higher temps didn’t play well with Millen’s soft tire compound, causing him to spin.

That said, it wasn’t exactly a picnic for Dumas, either. The Frenchman’s race car had an engine failure on Saturday, forcing his team to perform an all-night rebuild. The wrench-fest worked, but Dumas still had to contend with a leaky hose and brake issues on his race-winning run.

Why Pikes Peak?

Pikes Peak – Birthplace of the REAL EV Revolution
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Despite Millen’s misfortunes, EVs are clearly rising to the top at the Pikes Peak event. It wasn’t that long ago that the Electric Division was an outlier, offering little competition to traditional dino-fueled racers in the bid for hill climb glory.

But like Dylan said, the times they are a-changin’.

EVs went 1-2 at Pikes Peak for the first time just last year, but now, it seems like everyone pretty much expects battery-suckers to lead the charge.

Objectively, it makes a lot of sense. Internal combustion engines rely on atmospheric pressure to make power, and in the high-altitude conditions of Pikes Peak, output can drop by as much as 30 percent between the start and finish lines. Electric drivetrains don’t have that problem.

What’s more, EVs offer 100 percent of their available torque at 0 rpm, which combines with high-tech torque vectoring and AWD systems to offer exceptional acceleration on the steep, twisting switchbacks of the Pikes Peak Highway.

The REAL EV Revolution

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But there’s more to the Pikes Peak EV Revolution than high-altitude and tight corners. The event rulebook is broad enough to allow some of the most advanced go-fast technology in the world an opportunity to come out and play – both in the electric and internal combustion divisions. The result is a race that pits the best of both worlds against one another.

Infused with a spirit of experimentation and driven to overcome the ICE status quo, the EVs of Pikes Peak are the real deal when it comes to all-electric performance. The unique demands of this annual event are forcing the breed to evolve – at an exponential rate.

Taking a step back, it all lines up perfectly with what’s happening in the industry. Across the go-fast spectrum, from F1, to Le Mans, to hyper cars, the fastest machines on the planet use some sort of battery assistance. This is where the cutting edge currently lies, and the next obvious step is to drop liquid fuels entirely. Now is the time to start molding the racers of the future, and although the Old Guard of internal combustion is doomed to an eventual surrender, it’s not gonna go quietly.

EVs On The Rise

Pikes Peak – Birthplace of the REAL EV Revolution
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Forget saving the Earth. The EVs you and I care about are all about speed.

Sure, we’ve all heard it before – “EVs are the future! They’ll save us from ourselves!” Etc., etc.

For the most part, I agree (check out my piece on the The Future Auto Enthusiast for more), but the real EV Revolution won’t take place in a Tesla showroom – it’ll happen at the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. We’re already seeing increased efforts from the major manufacturers – the all-electric NSX prototype that took third overall this year is probably just the tip of the iceberg. And as the PPIHC enters its second century, will additional factory-supported EVs supplant traditional ICE-powered racers? I’m thinking yes.

And if everything goes right, who knows – Loeb’s record of 8:13.878 might not stand for long.

Jonathan Lopez
Jonathan Lopez
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