There is definitely something unique about going to bed with your alarm set for 2:30 am. Personally, I do this pretty rarely, so when I do, I have back up alarms that are extra loud and maybe even closer to my head than normal. Surprisingly it is always easier to get up than I expect. This is what it takes to spectate the Pikes Peak international Hill climb.
Every year I head down to this race. Normally as a photographer for a magazine. This year however I went down simply to watch…and take photos…just not for a magazine.
Thursday morning at 3:30 am, we were rolling through the gate on the way up the mountain. Darkness hides the exposure on the sides of the road as we gained elevation but onward and upward we went heading past Devils playground, Engineers corner, the W’s and many other famous corners on the mountain. We finally made it to our destination in Boulder Park. It is always a good idea to get to Boulder park first. That way your car can be the most protected from the rocks and debris that the vehicles will inevitably throw backward as they accelerate away. This year I was joined by my good friends John Grimberg and Jeremiah Hueske. Jeremiah has come to the event the last couple years…it has become a bit of a tradition and we are now collecting more people to share it with.
We parked the car and shut off the lights to complete darkness at approximately 12,700 ft, the temp said it was 44 degrees, but the thin air simply chilled you to the bone when you stepped out of the car. We stayed inside, protected from the elements, watching top gear. As the sun snuck up from the horizon the mountain was revealed to us and we began listening intently for the sound of engines. Soon, the sound struck our ears and we knew the day was about to begin.
Cars began charging up the mountain, one after the next. The most anticipated were the newest vehicles, two Ford Fiesta’s driven by Marcus Gronholm (codriver Timo Alanne) and Andrea Eriksson (codriver Per Ola Svensson) as well as the RS 200 driven by Mark Rennison. Of course, Monster Tajima was right up there as well with a purpose built vehicle that has been coming to the event for years, but the facination was with the new drivers and vehicles…
Eriksson came charging past then suddenly there was a red flag. word came across the radio that his fiesta was on it’s roof!
Mark Rennison had issue the day prior and was taking his practice runs in a rental car as well, so Monstar and Gronholm were showing us how fast the mountain could be driven.
Among the other drivers were Rhys Millen and the Kerns. Rhys is a top drifter and he simply makes things look perfect when he drives by. His car is always sideways and he is one of the most exciting drivers to watch. The Kerns put their stamp on the race last year with an impressive time that shattered the record in their class by nearly a minute! This year they were back with 200 more horse power under the hood and a lot more technology in the car.
The driving was incredible, faster and faster during each practice run. You could see the line being etched into the road and the drivers beginning to find their pace as they practiced the course. As the excitement rose the time progressed and 9am came around. Practice was over. We were back to our hotel about 10 hours after we woke up and it was only noon!
Friday started the same way, 2:30 rolled around and we were getting up. Packing for the day and getting ready to head up to the mountain again. This time we were headed to the lower section. We arrived at our destination, Eleven Mile, and immediately saw something we hadn’t seen before, Cars. There were nearly as many vehicles on Friday, practice day, as there normally is during the race. It was clear that the new drivers were bringing more fans!
The sun began to rise and the fans emerged from their vehicles. The day was perfect, not a cloud in the sky and just a faint breeze. The first engine began up the hill and we all waited in anticipation. The motors are often so loud that you would swear that they were coming around the corner you are looking at even when the vehicle is still a mile away! Soon the first car blasted around the corner and threw a huge plume of dust into the sunlight. The car dissapeared as fast as it arrived, the entire time we saw the car it was completely sideways at full speed. This is why we come here!
The anticipaction of the race began, speculation of who could take down the 10 minute barrier… Then speculation on what the weather would do and whether or not Eriksson and Mark Rennison would get their cars back together. Then of course the topic of the event came up.
Pikes peak is the only event that I know of that every driver comes back, not because of the event, but because of the mountain. The draw of that mountain is strong enough that every driver that I have spoken to repeatedly says “I don’t think I want to do this anymore” but every year they are back. I am sure you are wondering why they wouldn’t want to do this anymore. The reason is simple. The race is run very poorly. The marketing, organization and, well basically everything all seem as though they undergo no planning and are simply put into place by hasty descisions and big egos. This year no timing was displayed to help boost interest in the race. Never has there been marketing in Denver…which is 70 miles away from the event. Restrictions are put on the Media at such a high level that they don’t want to show up to the race for any reason other than its history.
But even though competitors feel as though they were duped, media feels unwanted and spectators have to make a large effort to spectate (this is just the nature of the race however, not a reflection on the organization) the event is successful. I can’t wait till tomorrow to head up to Devils Playground and watch fans and vehicles roar as the clock ticks. I hope to see the record fall, but a small part of me wants to see the mountain hold back that 10 minute barrier once again! All this will have to wait, because tomorrow is race day and tomorrow the mountain will decide.