More than 100 competition cars line up to celebrate Pikes Peak’s centenary year.
Pikes Peak ‘Race to the Clouds’ hillclimb is known as one of the toughest motor sport events in the world, the high altitudes slowing competitors’ reflexes, straining brains and cramping muscles – while their engines lose up to 30% of their power. And there are very few safety barriers, despite ravines of up to 600m deep alongside.
This year marked the 100th anniversary of the hillclimb and it was celebrated with a spectacular line-up of more than 100 competition cars and motorcycles. It was won by Romain Dumas, who covered the 12.42-mile, 156-turn, 1440m climb in 8min 51.445sec, driving a Norma M20 RD Limited special – not quite up with the outright record set in 2013 by Sebastian Loeb in 8min 13.878sec, but impressive all the same.
The hillclimb, officially known as The Broadmoor Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, was started by entrepreneur Spencer Penrose, who converted the narrow track into the Pikes Peak Highway. Its first running was in 1916, with Rea Lentz awarded the inaugural Penrose Trophy for a winning time of 20min 55.60sec. Since then it has run nearly every year, other than for a short break early on and for World War Two, making 2016 the 94th running of the event.
From 1946 to 1970 Pikes Peak was part of the IndyCar championship, making for some spectacular action, and in the early 1980s it began to attract the European rally teams. The action really hotted up when Audi and Peugeot began to battle for supremacy: Audi’s Michèle Mouton, Bobby Unser and Walter Röhrl, and Peugeot’s Ari Vatanen all held records at Pikes Peak.
Until 2002 the hillclimb was entirely unpaved but eventually the City of Colorado Springs was forced to tarmac the road, completing around 10% of the climb every year. The 2011 event was the last race with dirt sections, and since then it has been entirely surfaced, to the disgust of many of the regulars. Still, it’s rare for anyone to break the nine-minute barrier, even in the popular ‘unlimited’ class that allows 1000bhp+ specials.
Pikes Peak continues to attract high-budget race teams of cars and motorcycles, both modern and classic, with big-name sponsorship from Gran Turismo and TAG Heuer. It also boasts a museum, which opened in July 2014.
Words David Lillywhite // Photography: TAG Heuer