MAX BMW at the 85th annual Pikes Peak International Hill Climb
The 85th annual Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is something of an American institution in the same way that the Daytona and Indianapolis events are part of USA racing folklore.
The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is a long-standing tradition in Colorado Springs and the second oldest motorsport event in the United States. The hill climb itself started in 1916 and is run on a 12.4-mile course that begins at 9,400 feet (2,862 metres) and rises to 14,110-foot (4,300 metres) up a tight twisty Colorado Rockies mountain road with numerous tight hairpins. As the drivers climb toward the summit, the thin air slows reflexes and saps muscle strength - plus it robs engines of 30 per cent of their power at the summit. So competitors and vehicles must be in top shape simply to finish, let alone win.
Practice is now well underway for the 85th annual Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, which takes place on Saturday. BMW Motorrad Motorsport has been there for several days, competing in the expanded three-day practice week on the new HP2 Megamoto.
This year’s team consists of Greg Tracy, who won the Supermoto class last year and came third in the overall rankings; Casey Yarrow, who won the Exhibition Class (for motorcycles above 750cc) on the HP2 Enduro last year and placed fifth overall; Micky Dymond, who won at Pikes Peak in 2005 and claimed the overall runner-up spot last year; and German rider Markus Barth, competing in his first ever Pikes Peak event.
Early practice times have Greg Tracy as the fastest BMW rider, followed by Micky Dymond, Markus Barth and Casey Yarrow. However, these are not the only BMW riders competing at the premier motorsport hill climb event in the world. Last weekend, two New England BMW riders set off on a 30-hour journey to central Colorado to take part in the action.
Thirty-six year-old Gordon Mullavey will ride a BMW HP2 Enduro on the windy 12.4-mile (20-km) course. He is a long-time BMW motorcycle rider and a champion off-road racer, but Pikes Peak will be his first hill climb.
He will be joined by Max Stratton, who was originally only going to provide mechanical and pit support for Mullavey, but the thought of a 30-hour van ride to go and just help Gordon was too much to bear. Consequently, they made a detour to a motorcycle dealer to pick up a second set of Supermoto wheels and Max is now riding the spare bike. Stratton, 34, is an accomplished hill climber, though he is more accustomed to taking the uphill challenge on four wheels instead of two.
Both believe that their combined experience will result in a successful attempt on the mountain. The HP2 Enduros that Stratton and Mullavey will ride are street-legal and only slightly modified from the showroom, with upgraded race suspension and special wide tires to handle the variable surface of the Pike’s Peak Highway.
The course is a twisty sprint of 12.4 miles (20 kilometres). With varying turns and an asphalt surface that becomes gravel halfway up, the riders will get a tremendous workout. Although every corner in the race deserves full respect, the one named ’Bottomless Pit’ gets top billing as the one not to miss - quite literally. No one has ever overrun that corner, as this would result in a 6,000-feet (2,000 metres) drop.
There are now a total of seven BMWs in the 1200cc class, but there are many other classes, including motorcycle sidecar; vintage motorcycles; 250cc; 450cc; Supermoto; 750cc; various quad classes; as well as many for cars, trucks and even a class for big lorries. With such a packed schedule, practice has been starting for the motorcycle racers at 3.30am and has been run in sections so that no rider or driver is able to ride the whole course from bottom to top before the race.
After the three practice sessions have been completed, the BMW Motorrad Motorsport factory riders are all very confident and hoping for decent weather on Saturday, so they can show just what the HP2 Megamoto is capable of achieving in the ’Race to the Clouds’. Gary Trachy was the winner of last year’s race, with a record time of 11:46.84, but all team riders believe they can go faster on Saturday.