The "Race to the Clouds" takes place this weekend, June 25.

It’s affectionally called the “Race to the Clouds,” a nickname it earned for its unconventional race course, at least relative to traditional race courses. It’s also been referred to as one of the toughest races in the world and the world’s most famous hill climbing competition - no small feats for an event that it’s been around for 101 years. Whatever name or whatever description it goes by, this race will forever be referred to as the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, and it’s taking place for the 95th time this weekend on June 25.

Like most years, a huge throng of people will be making the pilgrimage to Colorado Springs this weekend in what has become one of the most eagerly anticipated racing spectacles in the U.S. Pikes Peak is non-traditional in a sense that it’s not part of a racing series, nor is it an actual race track or oval circuit. Instead, competitors literally have to go up a mountain to get to the finish line. If it sounds easy in that description, it’s actually not. Far from it, to be honest. Competing in Pikes Peak takes a toll on the driver and the car in ways that no other kind of motorsport race can do. That’s a big reason why finishing it as much of a big deal as actually winning it, let alone setting an actual record. So ahead of this weekend’s Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, we’ve prepared a little primer to get people up-to-speed on the history of the race, the spectacle that comes with it, and the expectations that will go in being invested in the outcome of this year’s race.

Continue after the jump to read the full story.

What’s the backstory on the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb?

2016 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb – Preview
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The event itself actually dates back to 1916, making it the second oldest motorsport race in the U.S.

The event itself actually dates back to 1916, making it the second oldest motorsport race in the U.S., beaten only by the Indianapolis 500, which had its first race five years earlier in 1911. While the race is celebrating its 101st anniversary this year, it’s only running for the 95th time. The discrepancy between the two can be largely attributed to the two World Wars, which saw the race cancelled in 1917, 1918, and 1919 because of World War I and 1942, 1943, 1944, and 1945 because of World War II. As Dan Sanborn, a historian of the event and the vice president of the Pikes Peak Hill Climb Historical Association told The Gazette last year, “all the resources of the country had to go to the war effort.”

"In that time frame, a big part of that were gas shortages,” Sanborn added. “People were encouraged to not drive. It probably wouldn’t have gone over too well for the race to go on. Race cars use a lot more gas than a normal car. It was part of fluff that people weren’t partaking of at that time."

Since then, though, the Hill Climb has been run every year, leading to the age-old joke amount Pikes Peak enthusiasts that the event can’t be stopped by anything short of an actual world war.

Has the course changed layouts over the years?

What You Need To Know About The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb
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The course is 12.41 miles long with 156 turns throughout its distance

For the most part, the course has remained the same, but it has undergone a major shift in terms of upgrading the terrain of the highway. Beginning in 2002, the City of Colorado Springs, the party responsible for maintaining the Pikes Peak highway, began paving the 13 miles of road that led to the Pikes Peak summit in response to a lawsuit filed against it by the Pikes Peak chapter of the Sierra Club, which accused the City of violating the Clean Water Act because of all the gravel pollution caused by the aforementioned 13 miles of unpaved roads that led up to the summit. Ultimately, it took the City 10 years to complete the paving of the 13-mile road, finishing it in 2012.

Overall, the course is 12.41 miles long with 156 turns throughout its distance. The start line is at the Mile 7 marker on the Pikes Peak Highway, which already has an altitude of 9,390 feet. All in all, racers have to climb another 4,729 feet to get to the finish line at the mountain’s summit, which sits at an altitude of 14,115 feet.

The uncharacteristic layout of the course - relative to other tracks in the world - means that drivers and their cars will have to massively compensate for the thin air that brought about by the conditions. It’s been said that thin air slows reflexes and saps the driver’s physical and metal strengths, making it imperative for the competitors to be in peak physical shape to finish the race, let alone win their divisions. As far as the cars themselves go, competing at that altitude also means that the engines lose up to 30 percent of the power they have at the Start Line. Imagine how taxing that’s going to be.

What are the classes/divisions we should know about?

Will the 2017 Pikes Peak Bring New Records?
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In the car segment, there will be three notable divisions to keep an eye on: Pikes Peak Challenge, Time Attack, and Unlimited

Car entries and motorcycle entries will compete in their own races, as it has been for quite some time now. In the car segment, there will be three notable divisions to keep an eye on: Pikes Peak Challenge, Time Attack, and Unlimited. Both the Pikes Peak Challenge and Time Attack Divisions have their own classes - Open Wheel and Pikes Peak Open under the Pikes Peak Challenge and Time Attack 1 and Time Attack 2 under the Time Attack Division. That said, the unquestioned crown jewel division of the Pikes Peak Hill Climb is the Unlimited Division, which essentially tosses out any race-spec guidelines and just lets cars compete in it regardless of their size and abilities. Most of the overall winners of Pikes Peak come from this division, although it must be noted that Rhys Millen won the overall title in 2015 with a time of 9:07.222 on board an EO PP03 electric racer. Interestingly enough, Millen actually beat that lap time a year later in the EO PP100 with a time of 8:57.118. Had it not been for Dumas posting his 8:51.445 lap time, the last two overall winners of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb would’ve been electric cars. Sign of the times, perhaps?

Who are the prominent racers competing this year?

Dumas is shooting for a faster time this year, perhaps even come closer to the outright record of 8:13.878

A lot of notable names will compete in the Race to the Clouds this year. Defending Unlimited Division Champion, Romain Dumas, will be back to defend his crown. He’ll be driving a 2017 Norma MXX RD Limited, a prototype racer that shares the same carbon monocoque as the M20, the car that Dumas drove to a title-winning time of 8:51.445 last year. Not surprisingly, Dumas is shooting for a faster time this year, perhaps even come closer to the outright record of 8:13.878 that was set by Sebastian Loeb back in 2013. In addition to Dumas, Rhys Millen will also be returning to Pikes Peak, this time with a race-spec Hyundai Genesis Coupe that he will use in the Time Attack Division.

Will the 2017 Pikes Peak Bring New Records?
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What You Need To Know About The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb Exterior High Resolution
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Any cars worth looking out for?

The Palatov D2, a lightweight two-seater sports car, will also be in the race together with its driver David Meyer

There are a lot of them, no doubt about it. Dumas’ Norma MXX RD Limited and Millen’s Hyundai Genesis Coupe will understandably get a lot of shine, but there are also a handful of other notable race cars that will compete in Pikes Peak. The 2017 Acura NSX will be at the event and will be driven by James Robinson. The Palatov D2, a lightweight two-seater sports car, will also be in the race together with its driver David Meyer. A good number of Porsche 911’s and Nissan GT-R’s will also be there. Last but certainly not least is the Faraday Future FF91. It’s only driven as an exhibition car, but it’s appearance is no less significant considering its rather notable in the electric car segment these days.

What You Need To Know About The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb
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2018 Faraday Future FF 91
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note: photos of the Palatov D2 and the Faraday Future FF91.

Who are the current record-holders at the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb?

The overall record is held by nine-time World Rally Championship champion Sebastian Loeb, who, in 2013, drove a specially modified Peugeot 208 that was known as the T16 Pikes Peak and reached the top of the summit in a stunning time of 8:13.878. The record has yet to be threatened.

While Loeb’s time is still considered the time to beat in Pikes Peak, the event also keeps track of other record times depending on the class and division of the car. For example, the Time Attack and Pikes Peak Challenge have their own record times. Check out the table below to see who holds what record where.

Division Class Year Name Vehicle Time
Unlimited 2013 Sebastian Loeb Peugeot 208 T16 Pikes Peak 8:13.878
Time Attack Time Attack 1 2013 Paul Dallenbach Hyundai Genesis Coupe 9:46.001
Time Attack 2 2015 David Donner 2014 Porsche 911 Turbo S 10:26.896
Pikes Peak Challenge Open Wheel 2015 Paul Dallenbach 2003 PVA Dallenbach Special 9:36.496
Pikes Peak Open 2012 Romain Dumas 2012 Porsche GT3R 9:46.181

The Pikes Peak record books also acknowledges non-division and class records, which are no less significant given the changing environment of the race itself. Take for example the “Alternative Fuel Records"
in the table below.

Fuel Division/Class Year Name Vehicle Time
Electric Modified 2016 Rhys Millen 2016 EO PP100 8:57.118
Production 2016 Blake Fuller 2016 Tesla Model S P90D 11:48.264
Diesel Exhibition 2015 Uwe Nittel 2016 Mercedes C300 D 4MATIC 11:37.149
Natural Gas OW 1993 Johnnie Rogers Wells-Coyote 11:50.090
Propane Exhibition/PPO 2012 Randy Schranz 2012 Shelby Cobra 11:11.218
Turbine Open Rally 1981 Steve Bolan Bolan Allison 15:27.180

And in case anybody’s interested to know about the Drivetrain Records, here they are.

Drivetrain Division/Class Year Name Vehicle Time
Front-Wheel Drive Time Attack 1 2016 Robb Holland 2013 Audi TT-RS 10:56.878
Rear-Wheel Drive Unlimited 2013 Rhys Millen Hyundai PM580T 9:02.192
All-Wheel Drive Unlimited 2013 Sebastian Loeb Peugeot 208 T16 Pikes Peak 8:13.878

Where can I get tickets to watch it live

Tickets are available on the official website of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. Single tickets are available for $60 if a customer buys in advance or $70 if a customer buys on race day itself. Certain packages are also available at costs ranging from $100 to $240 for tickets bought in advance or $120 to $320 for tickets brought on race day. Certain restrictions based on the event’s terms and conditions apply.

I’m not going to the event but I want to watch it. Where can I see it?

Provided your Internet connection is up to snuff, you can go to the official website of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb where the event will be live-streamed. You’ll need to register for it though.

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