Photography by Larry Chen
Aptly named the Race to the Clouds, the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb (PPIHC) is an annual motorsport competition in which two- and four-wheeled racers speed to the highest summit of the southern Front Range of the Rocky Mountains—known as Pikes Peak—in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
I am a firm believer that unique locations make for great racing. Half the battle in motorsport is overcoming whatever issues arise within the given terrain. Considering the concept of a racetrack at its core, what is a straightaway but a measurable distance ready to be covered at speed? What is a turn but a conquerable obstacle before straightness resumes? It satisfies us deep in our soul to tame these hurdles and rewards our ambition when we’re able to improve while doing so. So what happens when there are 156 turns throughout a 12.42-mile stretch of winding road that climbs up to 14,115 feet of elevation? Well, humankind and its obsession with adventure shape it into one of the most incredible racetracks of all time.
For the 97th running of the PPIHC, there were no four-wheeled world records set and no multi-million-dollar factory-backed attempts. However, that doesn’t mean that there weren’t 85 enthusiastic unique teams present, with the most talented pilots vying to succeed at one of the oldest races in the world.
As we found out in our interview with the Evasive Motorsports team, Pikes Peak is brutal, unforgiving, and ruthless. If it were a character in a fighting video game, Pikes would be the final boss. You know, the gargantuan one that you had to combine forces with your sibling to beat, and it still took several—or several dozen—attempts to conquer the challenge.
Whether it’s the bipolar climate changes that occur on the mountain, the incredible strain on the vehicles, the unimaginable focus required in navigating its many turns, or the drastic change in atmosphere at its highest elevation, Pikes Peak is quite simply an absolute evaluation of man, machine, and race team.
At its worst, the mountain is treacherous. There are countless instances over the years where competitors have suffered their fate at the hand of this route. It’s an incredibly depressing statistic, and one that regrettably continued this year with the unfortunate loss of Ducati factory motorcycle rider Carlin Dunne, and we extend our deepest condolences to his family.
But at its best, the mountain is a gratifying piece of magnificence. Watching the sun crest into view over the horizon line while exhaust notes flood the dwindling atmosphere is a marvel that simply must be experienced to be appreciated. Year after year, drivers return in new programs to continue the quest for hill climb greatness because there is nothing like PPIHC elsewhere on the planet.
This year, Robin Shute logged the fastest overall climb in an Unlimited-classed 2018 Wolf TSC, powered by a Honda Performance Development turbocharged-K20 engine. Shute wrestled the Wolf’s aerodynamic chassis up the mountain and across the finish line in a respectable 9:12.476 elapsed time, despite claims that the car had issues on its final run.
The fastest two-wheeled climb came from Rennie Scaysbrook, riding a 2018 Aprilia Tuono V4 1100 in the Pikes Peak Heavyweight class. Scaysbrook was not only the fastest motorcyclist of the day but also eclipsed the overall motorcycle record! What a ride and quite the feat to perform.
Our friend William Au-Yeung attempted the climb this year in his Vibrant Performance 2012 Honda Civic Si. However, because of a mechanical failure in the final turns, he limped the car across the finish line in first gear. Au-Yeung recorded a total time of 11:03.988. Bar the failure, he was within reach of the current front-wheel-drive record. I’m positive we’ll see him at Pikes again in 2020 attempting to earn that honor.
In all, the Race to the Clouds fame for treachery and mechanical failures continues, as does its habit of alluring incoming challengers. If this year’s hill climb foreshadows PPIHC’s future, it will continue to earn its reputation as one of the most thrilling motorsport events in all of the land.