We wrote last year about the wonder of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. Predictably, it’s back for 2012, but a few things are different this time around. Gone is the dirt portion of the track, and the electrics have arrived to show everyone up. We’ll see if they do.
Give up now trying to memorize all of the different classes that run at the Peak. There are 16 in all, ranging from quads to motorcycles to open. But since there are unlimited and exhibition classes, and since it’s probably the most grueling hill climb on the planet, Pikes Peak has always been a great test bed for emerging tech. This year is no ex ception.
It’s the third year around for the electric class, though last year there were only 2 entries. This time around there are 7, led by none other than Nobuhiro “Monster” Tajima himself, who has won the last 6 Peak events, and was the first to ever break the 10 minute record in his uber-modified Suzuki last year. Now he’s back with a Mitsubishi electric prototype, the E-Runner, a figurehead for their i-Miev technology. It looks exactly like a white Batmobile.
Whatever your thoughts on electrics, you can’t argue that short hill climb races are the best places to test them and develop new technology. Their low end torque makes them great for pulling out of the Peak’s myriad curves and corners, but most importantly, they don’t need air. At an elevation of over 14,000 feet, Pikes Peak offers a special challenge for combustion engines, and forced induction is used almost universally to fight the sparse mountain air. Plus you don’t have to recharge every 100 miles, because there are only 12 miles in the course.
But all this humming electric tech doesn’t mean there will be a shortage of engine noise this year. The Vintage Class will be running as usual, sporting some beautiful old American iron. Jess Neal of Powerblock TV will be back in her stunningly murdered-out ’71 Cuda. Gerhard Pegam comes all the way from Bavaria, Germany with his ’65 Shelby GT350. Want to go a bit further back? Oklahoman John Groendyke will be there with his beautiful 1949 Cadillac 62 Coupe.
And for the first time, he won’t have to worry about the gravel from the dirt section of the course chipping up his slippery paint. Because the road is entirely paved this year. Despite enthusiasts’ cries to save the dirt, the Sierra Club won out, claiming that millions of pounds of foreign gravel had been washing off of the road every year, damaging the local habitat.
It means a big change in the character of the race. Where before it was more rally-centric, we may now start to see more formula-style open wheelers show up, owning the competition as they do the hill climbs of Europe. Cars are no longer set up for a drift bias, focusing now on downforce and braking. It doesn’t mean the race will be worse, just that it will be different.
But the best thing about this year’s race is that it will be happening at all. Originally planned for July 8th, it was postponed for the horrific wildfires that ripped through the region last month. Thankfully, the locals were too awesome to stay down, and got back on their feet to pull together their beloved Race to the Clouds in record time.
Images courtesy Pikes Peak International Hill Climb