I contemplate myself to be a hardcore racing fan. I’ve attended a lot of races in my life and witnessed my fair proportion of nail-biting moments, inch-perfect passes, and tear-jerking victories. I’ve additionally witnessed extra crashes than I’ve needed to, together with some that claimed driver and spectator lives. Nonetheless, till final week, there was one race that I hadn’t checked off my motor racing bucket listing: the Pikes Peak Worldwide Hill Climb. And now, after witnessing its savagery from up shut, I can confidently say that the race to the 14,115-foot summit is the wildest and most harmful in America.
I had an thought of what Pikes Peak was all about; how the dust highway was now paved and the way final names like Unser, Millen, Dunne and most lately Dumas had earned the title of “King of the Mountain.” What I did not know, nevertheless, was the cojones it took to stare at a violent-looking, snow-capped mountain and say: “Yeah, I need to drive a race automobile (or bike) on you at 150 miles per hour.” In fact, I nonetheless do not know what that is like, however I did get to hang around with of us who do.
Acura invited me to Colorado Springs, Colorado to hang around with its staff of racing drivers and engineers as they ready to compete within the 97th version of the Worldwide Hill Climb. Curiously sufficient, Acura did not simply have racers and engineers, however precise engineers racing the creations they helped develop and, er, engineer. Consider it as your organization’s worker softball league, however a lot, a lot cooler.
24 Hours Earlier than the Race
It was 9 a.m. the day earlier than the race, and I discovered myself on the entrance of Pike Nationwide Forest sitting behind the wheel of a 2019 Acura RDX. Straight in entrance of me was the official Acura NSX official tempo automobile pushed that day by Peter Cunningham, one of many largest names in sports activities automobile racing and the proprietor of RealTime Racing. Behind me—and I imply actually behind me, as in my backseat—had been Steven Olona and Jordan Guitar, two Acura engineers who had been hand-picked to race in 2019. Olona and Guitar had been going to be my backseat drivers as I made my method by way of the 12.42-mile race course.
“Oh crap!” I shouted after an enormous buck ran throughout the highway not even 20 seconds after crossing the beginning line. “Welcome to Pikes Peak,” stated a voice from the backseat. I do not know who had stated it, however I do know that I did not care on the time as a result of I used to be internally crapping my pants. As we progressed by way of the course, the semi-professional racers defined how the RDX I used to be driving differed from the race-prepped RDX and MDX SUVs they had been piloting through the race, whereas additionally sharing recommendation from their very own experiences behind the wheel.
Timber finally disappeared and car-sized boulders and heavy snow started to line the highway. And to the appropriate, unending precipices. The temperature, together with wind velocity and path modified instantly. To make issues even worse, somebody figured guardrails merely weren’t mandatory.
After stopping at just a few spots alongside the way in which to listen to Cunningham and firm’s footnotes, we reached the summit and posed for photographs on the 14,115-foot elevation marker. Regardless of the espresso and donut availability on the summit, I opted for just a few good puffs of an oxygen canister as an alternative. To say that my physique was feeling the results of the excessive altitude and decrease oxygen ranges was an understatement.
It was 5:30 a.m. and I discovered myself driving an Acura RDX into Pike Nationwide Forest as soon as once more. This time, nevertheless, I did not have any particular company within the again. These guys had arrived on the monitor hours prior and had been already reviewing climate circumstances and going over efficiency experiences. An hour later I attended the world’s shortest driver’s assembly, which principally consisted of the race director telling everybody to be protected and maintain this system transferring, adopted by the singing of the nationwide anthem and a quick prayer. Simply minutes after everybody stated “Amen,” the primary bike blasted by way of the beginning line and up the mountain.
The following bike was presupposed to observe three minutes later, however that did not occur. It seems this yr’s inaugural competitor was concerned in a extreme crash and needed to be airlifted to a close-by hospital, inflicting a one-hour delay. I did not understand it on the time, however this is able to be the primary of three crashes that will make me understand that Pikes Peak is probably the most harmful race held on American soil.
I hiked a quarter-mile up the mountain through the delay and settled on a spot close to a harmful double-apex right-hander. Shortly thereafter I heard a loud and disturbing grinding coming from the left. I rapidly moved towards the makeshift fence and realized a motorbike and its fellow rider had been sliding on the highway, leaving a path of particles and sparks behind. Each flew off the highway and into the woods, with the rider avoiding a number of bushes and catastrophic accidents. The bike did not get pleasure from the identical luck, ricocheting off bushes earlier than coming to a whole cease. All I may see was a cloud of dust, and all one-hundred or so spectators close to me had gone silent. The one factor that could possibly be heard was the bike’s security siren, which had been triggered through the crash to assist rescuers navigate the huge wilderness. I used to be on my toes and my abdomen harm, however all I may do was hope the rider was okay. After 30 minutes, he emerged absolutely acutely aware and sporting a neck brace. He was assisted to a security car and was hauled away. Everybody clapped. “Only some extra bikes to go,” I assumed. “Then the automobiles will run.”
Finally, the monitor was cleared and the bikes started operating interrupted. In contrast to the automobiles, bikes began from slowest to quickest, so the slowest qualifying bike ran first, and the quickest final. This meant that the 27th and remaining bike was really the quickest, and that honor belonged to veteran Carlin Dunne and his 2019 Ducati Streetfighter V4 Prototype.
I had noticed Dunne on the pits earlier that morning as he regarded over just a few particulars on his bike. I might by no means met him however I had heard of him earlier than. I knew he was one of many massive names at Pikes Peak and that he was going for the all-out bike file in 2019—a feat he had already completed in 2012 when he grew to become the primary bike to ship a sub-10-minute time.
In a while, I noticed Dunne blast previous the double-apex nook on his option to the summit. “Lastly,” I assumed. I used to be anxious to see Dunne’s time, however I used to be much more excited for the primary automobile to run.
Immediately, silence. “Crap, not once more,” I stated to myself. What ought to’ve been a 5, possibly 10-minute hole became an hour, then two, and at last phrase got here down from the mountain—actually. Dunne had suffered a giant crash, undecided the place, nevertheless it was unhealthy. He needed to be airlifted. The delay was extended as a result of organizers needed to wait on the helicopter to return from the hospital in case one other racer wanted its companies.
Finally, the primary automobile took off, after which the second, after which Cunningham’s Acura TLX GT rocketed by me, adopted by two Acura NSXs—one inventory and one modified. However then, Mom Nature had a change of coronary heart and rain began coming down arduous. Sadly, additional up the mountain, that rain became hail and the race distance needed to be shortened, which meant that my trusty backseat drivers Olona and Guitar had been pressured to run a shortened race of their respective Acuras. On the finish of the day, Cunningham ran a formidable 9:24.433 and completed first in school and third total. Olona and Guitar scored a fourth and sixth total—a fantastic consequence by all means however not precisely what they needed.
Sadly, Dunne died a results of his crash, which experiences declare occurred simply 20 yards away from the end line. Once I heard that, my thoughts instantly went again to the ultimate nook, the place a bumpy and patchy monitor floor rocked the RDX’s suspension the day earlier than. I remembered one of many guys saying that spot had precipitated some open-wheelers to backside out. I used to be shocked however not stunned.
My first journey to Pikes Peak was eye-opening and enlightening. It was a reminder that motor racing continues to be harmful—and let me let you know—I reside 4 miles away from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the place 225-mph crashes are the norm.
Pikes Peak is in a league of its personal when it comes to talent stage and hazard. I am absolutely satisfied that Pikes Peak is America’s Isle of Man—and that it is the most harmful race on American soil.