Pikes Peak International Hill Climb - Recap
Some of the fastest speed machines in the world took up residency in Colorado over the weekend for the 93rd Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. The annual “Race to the Clouds” saw an enormous amount of action this year, with unpredictable weather challenging competitors, organizers and spectators alike, going from ideal blue skies to epic storms in just a matter of hours.
On hand was a motley assortment of vehicles, including custom one-off racers, open-wheel formula cars, extensively modified street cars, old-school muscle cars, a Freightliner racing semi, quads, and motorcycles.
Before race day, tragedy struck when a motorcyclist was killed in a crash during a practice session, underlining the ever-present danger of the treacherous climb to the Peak. The event was momentarily halted, but resumed operation on Friday.
By the end of Sunday, records were smashed and history was made. Traditionally a backdrop for showcasing the latest in performance vehicle technology, the 2015 PPIHC saw outright victory awarded to an electric vehicle for the first time in its history.
Updated 7/03/2015: The official PPIHC results have been released, so we’ve updated each respective division, including times recorded where the checkered flag was presented at the timing loop below Glen Cove.
Continue reading for the complete story behind the 2015 PPIHC.
Tragedy Precedes Sunday
During Thursday’s practice and qualifying session, motorcyclist Carl Sorensen was killed when his No.217 2008 Ducati 848 went off-course between the Devil’s Playground and the mountain’s summit. He was 39 years old. The accident occurred before 9 a.m. local time. Organizers canceled the remainder of the day’s events.
Sorensen was a Colorado native and Pikes Peak veteran, having finished 10th in the Open Class last year and 4th in the Exhibition Class in 2012.
Sorensen’s death is the sixth fatality to occur throughout the 93 individual PPIHC events. The last occurred last year, when Bobby Goodin, 54, crashed his 2014 Triumph Daytona 675R just past the finish line. In 2005, race official Henry J. Bresciani, 67, was killed when he was struck by a car during practice. In 2001, Ralph Chandler Bruning Jr., 31, was killed when his Super Stock car exited the course and rolled down an embankment. In 1982, Bill Gross was killed when he fell from his bike and was accidentally struck by a fellow competitor. The first death was in 1921, when driver Wallace Coleman died from injuries sustained during practice.
Weather Delays, Dangers, And Questions Over Results
The weather can change mighty quickly up in the mountains, which meant all the competitors at this year’s event had Mother Nature to grapple with. Spectators were equally at risk, as evidenced when as many as six people were struck by lightning on Thursday.
By the time the storm had cleared, the amount of hail at the summit prompted organizers to move the finish line to Glen Cove, 3,000 feet down from the 14,000-foot peak.
By the time race day rolled around, things were looking ideal, with warm temperatures and sunshine. However, by the afternoon, a severe thunderstorm warning was issued, as heavy rain, hail and more lightening whipped across the peak.
A 90-minute delay was called around 1 p.m. By the time the storm had cleared, the amount of hail at the summit prompted organizers to move the finish line to Glen Cove, 3,000 feet down from the 14,000-foot peak, more than halving the total race distance from 12.6 miles to 6 miles.
Several spins and crashes occurred on Sunday, but there were no reported injuries.
The conditions forced a substantial number of entries to run a shortened version of the course, making rankings between the two time sets more or less invalid. However, race officials have released the complete final results, which you can view here.
Electric Car Division
Pro drifter/rally driver Rhys Millen managed to sling his Latvian-built Drive eO PP03 racer to the summit prior to the weather delays, attaining a time of 9:07.222 in the process and clinching victory in the Electric Modified Class. Not only was it a new record for battery-powered vehicles, it was also the fastest time of the day for cars running the entire 12.6-mile course, thus earning Millen a spot in the history books as the pilot of the first EV to take top honors at the Peak.
Considering the section times the car was laying down during practice, Millen said an overall time in the mid-eight-minute range was more than possible.
The new time bests the old record by nearly a second, with the previous record set last year when Greg Tracy drove his 2014 Mitsubishi MiEV Evolution III to a time of 9:08.188.
Interestingly, Millen said the car could have gone much faster. Considering the section times the car was laying down during practice, Millen said an overall time in the mid-eight-minute range was more than possible. However, the car reportedly lost 50 percent of its power before the halfway mark of the record-setting run. “Basically it just turned into a front-wheel drive car,” Millen said in an interview with local NBC-news affiliate KOAA 5.
Still, Millen must be pleased with the result. Behind him was Nobuhiro “Monster” Tajima, who celebrated his 65th birthday behind the wheel of his 2015 Tajima Rimac E-Runner Concept_One, cresting the peak in 9:32.401, making for a solid 1-2 finish for EVs.
The overall record of 8:13.878, set in 2013 by Sebastien Loeb driving a highly modified 2013 Peugeot 208 T16, remains untouched. While battery power does come with its advantages at the Peak, including no power loss due to the low atmospheric pressure, EVs still have a long way to go if they are to challenge Loeb’s astonishing record.
Speaking to Autoblog, Drive eO principle Khristaps Dambis said that electric drivetrains had the necessary output and could provide a superior power-to-weight ratio compared to traditional ICE-powered cars, but the battery systems were too heavy to match the lightweight T16. He added that he was confident electric power would get there, but not before undergoing years of development.
Taking the checkered at Glen Cove, Tim O’Neil scored a third best-in-class finish with a time of 5:12.133. Rick Knoop a scored fourth best-in-class finish with a time of 5:16.820. Both competitors drove EVSRs from Entropy Racing.
Meanwhile, in the Electric Production Class, Ryan Millen finished ahead of Mike Tsay, both taking the checkered at Glen Cove. Ryan Millen managed a 5:27.021 in his Toyota RAV4 EV, while Tsay drove a Honda Fit EV for a time of 5:29.702.
Pikes Peak Challenge Car Division
Taking the third spot on the overall time sheet was an entrant from the Open Wheel Class. The naturally aspirated PVA racer of Paul Dallenbach managed to clinch a new record with a 9:36.496, smashing the old record of 9:54.700 set last year by Clint Vahsoltz in a 2013 Ford Open. Two additional Open Wheelers followed, with Spencer Steele in another PVA in fifth and Clint Vasholtz in sixth in his Ford. Splitting the top three Open Wheel entries was a Time Attack 1 entry in fourth overall.
Taking the win in the Exhibition class was Tetsuya Yamano, who drove a Honda CR-Z equipped with an experimental drivetrain to a time of 10:23.829. Rookie Jonathan Frost won the Open Class with a time of 10:21.978 in a Palatov D2RS, while veteran Christopher Lennon finished first in the Vintage Class driving his air-cooled Porsche 911 to a time of 11:37.969.
Time Attack Division
Taking first in the Time Attack Division and fourth overall was Jeff Zwart, who once again returned to the PPIHC with an entry hailing from Stuttgart. The #111 BBI-prepped Porsche clinched a time of 9:46.243, beating the next fastest Time Attack entry by over 30 seconds. That particular entry was the Mitsubishi of David Rowe, who finished the day in ninth overall.
Highlighting just how difficult a run up the Peak can be, Randy Pobst, a two-time North American Touring Car Championship title winner, two-time class winner at the 24 Hours of Daytona, and Motor Trend magazine test driver, crashed spectacularly on Sunday, resulting in a DNF and a damaged race car. Pobst was at the wheel of the Pikes Peak Racing Nissan GT-R, and was leading the Time Attack 2 Class by two seconds on Friday, with an impressive eighth position overall. However, his off proves that even the most experienced drivers can get caught out on America’s Mountain.
“I’m okay, I’m okay,” Pobst posted on his personal Facebook page, adding, “My fault, thought I was a corner further up the hill. Huge apologies to Pikes Peak Racing Team.”
With Pobst out, victory in Time Attack 2 went to David Donner, who drove a 2014 Porsche 911 Carrera Turbo S and finished with a time of 10:26.896
Traditionally the quickest set of cars on the mountain, the Unlimited entries had a less-than-stellar showing this year, with the number-one class-finisher Dominic Dobson settling for eighth overall in his Radical SR8, clocking in with a run of 10:15.289. Next was the Porsche of Jeff MacPherson, who ran a 10:20.370 for 12th overall.
Failing to make the starting line was the 2014 Honda ARX -04B LMP2 prototype, which was originally slated to make an “exploratory effort” in anticipation of a shot at the outright record sometime in the future. However, the car suffered a turbo failure that damaged the engine, preventing driver Justin Wilson from participating in practice and qualifying. However, Honda says it still managed to collect a good amount of data and will return to the Peak next year.