Testing and tuning with the EVO

What do you get when you take a high powered EVO made to run the toughest hillclimb in the nation and put its rally shoes back on? Well, you basically get a low level aircraft!


After a bit of a rough ride at Pikes peak this year the car is back in action and ready for another local hill climb. Monarch is part of the CHCA series, in fact it is the last race of the series. The Kerns currently hold the record on the hill when they ran previously in the EVO with almost 200 less horsepower than it has currently. After fixing damage, replacing parts and basically converting it back to a rally car we took the car out to CORE to test it out.


The EVO has so much power that all four wheels spin in nearly every gear on the dirt. It is a bit of an incredible thing. In addition it goes so much faster than the BMW that when you are going along the same course you spend close to double the time simply off the ground. There were several times when I thought: “Hmm, I sure hope we can land, regain traction and make that corner right there.” The funny thing is that the Ohlin suspension is so smooth compared to the BMW that even though you can tell you are going faster, the visual inputs are coming at you quicker, but it feels so smooth that you feel as though you are either going the same speed or going slower than the BMW.


After a solid run at CORE we packed it up and headed home. No need to run it all day but we had a good solid test and it was a bit humbling to see Dave say with what appeared to be genuine surprise. “Wow, after testing with the BMW all summer, the EVO is FAST!”


RaceKern: PPIHC Full Run

If you looked up the word ‘determined’ in the dictionary, it says “see racekern.com.” The Kerns have had some of the toughest years at Pikes Peak and each year they come out of it wit a smile on their face and a lesson learned. Some of those lessons I don’t think they could have ever avoided so it is amazing how positive and driven they can remain!

This year’s lesson? Dirt may be scary at times, but asphalt has many faces to. The thing about dirt is that you are relying on a surface that has minimal grip, so you are driving in such a way that you are constantly compensating for that lack of grip. On asphalt you are using all the grip that you can get out of the road. So if that grip goes away, you have a much tougher time. This year the Kerns found a part of the course that dust, gravel, something was blown onto the road and braking grip was eliminated! Stephan Verdier found the same place, but his experience was even more catastrophic! So ride along with the Kerns as they take you up the mountain. Keep your eyes peeled for their incidents and for the pieces that decide not to make it all the way to the summit with them!

Take a moment and read the Kern’s recap on the week at Pikes Peak on RaceKern.com

Pikes Peak International Hill Climb 2011

Every year I go up to Pikes Peak for the hill climb and every year the adventure is a bit different. I have worn many hats on the mountain including Photographer, writer, video guy and even tour guide. This year was a bit different. My roll this year was a bit more involved with the teams and it really gave me a good look at what they have to go through to make it to the summit.

Now let me clarify, the teams that I have been spending more time with are all small budget teams. These are guys and girls that don’t have the big dollar budgets and the ones that are sometimes the most impressive on the mountain with the least amount of fanfare. This year I spend the most time with the Kerns.

Dave and Allison are a great duo of Husband and Wife, Driver and Co-Driver. They have two race cars and I am pretty familiar with nearly all the nuts and bolts on both of them now. Their BMW Compact race car you can see more info on the build on my site and the EVO is their hill climb car for Pikes Peak. They seem to always find just enough support to be able to pull off another hill climb and they don’t show up with junk. The EVO is over 600 hp at the wheels, it is very well thought out with weight reduction measures taken at any place that they implement them. It is a rocketship with tires in my opinion and in the capable hands of the dynamic duo, it is a force to be reckoned with.


The other teams, who’s cars I don’t work on, but who I spend time with instead are the teams of Spencer Steele and Jimmy Olson. I met both of these guys through Ice Racing in Georgetown and these guys, well they are best friends and some of the fastest guys on the mountain. Their budgets are reflected in their vehicles as well. Spencer has a philosophy that you don’t paint a car till you can find out what color duct tape you can buy and Jimmy, well, he’s actually driving a car for a different owner named Butch. Both of them have a collection of used tires that they have collected from other teams, they have motors that they built themselves and every part of the work on the car they have a hand in. None of these teams tuck their driver in to get a good nights sleep then go to finish work on the car, the driver is the main part of the team and is integral in making the car go both on the course and in the pits.



In the weeks leading up to PPIHC these teams were working on cars. The kerns were driving to Chicago to get a new AMS power package put into their car. Spencer was building a motor and Jimmy, well he was trying to get his own car running for the event when catastrophe struck and he ended up running in Butch’s car. Exhaustion leading up to the event is a regular thing for these guys and with minimal support a lot of this is just out of pocket expenses too. On Tuesday night, the night before practice, we were under the Kerns EVO readying the car for the next day on the mountain and though the car was mostly ready, the final touches took till nearly 11pm to get through. With a wakeup call at 2:30, that makes for a short night!


On the mountain the first day, the Kerns were battling an under steer issue. With new suspension that they hadn’t been able to test due to rained out track days, they were experimenting on the mountain with the new suspension setup and it was pushing like crazy. Spencer and Jimmy were experimenting too, but they were working with different tires. With all the new pavement on the mountain the tires that they have used in the past, the Pikes Peak Specials, seemed to be too dirt oriented and not quite as pavement friendly, so they were playing with different front tires, different rear tires and run after run you would see different things being tested.

After practice the Kerns headed off to PPIR to continue testing and tuning. The suspension needed to be changed, tire pressures needed to be dialed in and the handling needed to be corrected. After hours at the track only a minimal improvement was felt. It was clear that they were missing something, but there was still time. With that being said, I as able to ride in the car for the first time at the end of the day and experienced a vehicle that has some intense amount of power. 0-60 seems like a silly measurement in this car as you feel that you could just barely stand to drive this thing 60 when it has so much more power to go. Maybe 0-100 or 0-150 even is more appropriate!


Practice day two came about and the same tweaks were being made. The kerns were working with suspension and at the same time AMS tuner Mitch was dialing in the tune on their motor. Jimmy and Spencer were clearly testing tires on each section to see what they could figure out would be faster and I was on the side of the mountain taking video of all of them. In case you don’t remember, last year we ran cameras on most of these cars and this year we stepped that effort up quite a bit. Cameras on the cars and a lot of video from the side of the mountain as well. This is a huge undertaking so check back in a week or so and I will have our final edit up for you to check out.


After practice the kerns headed out to PPIR again, this time they had an infield spot to work on the car. Federal Tires rep Taz Yeh came out to lend a hand and his help was fantastic. His knowledge of the tires and the suspension worked out well and they were able to dial in the suspension and tire pressures to really meet Dave’s driving needs. At the end of the day we laid down a final run on the track. Fully drifting most of the turns in 3rd gear with predictable handing in an AWD car… what an impressive feeling!


Practice day three was qualifying day. This was also the only day on dirt and the dirt was LOOSE. Yeah, The kerns headed up on their newly dialed suspension and they were looking quick. 5:09 was their qualifying time which bettered their previous best qualifying time on the mountain! This was good for second qualifying position however by 4 seconds and they were sure that they could find the extra seconds on the mountain. Jimmy and Spencer were battling out in their own class. Jimmy put down a 5:00 and Spencer a 5:07. With these two guys though that difference in time was going to be cut down… You can just feel the competitive nature between these two best friends! After practice everyone was off to Fan Fest.



Saturday the teams were dialing in, changing oil and just finalizing the prep for race day. Spencer and Jimmy were aligning their cars when I stopped by and as you can imagine it was unique. Big teams, they use tire alignment machines, lasers and other goodies. Jimmy and Spencer? They have a tape measure, a retractable dog leash 4 beer cans and a stick of aluminum. Now keep in mind they have this down to a science. They use two Coors cans on the back of the alignment bar and one Coors and one Bud can on the front… since the Bud can is shorter.

Precision alignment of an open wheeler

Race day came and the crowds were just huge. It is great to see people recognizing the majestic nature of this mountain and this race. I was asleep at Devils Playground and when I woke up there were probably 500 cars around me. It is a great sight to see! The weather was warm but a bit windy. Overall it was a perfect day for a race and clearly a great day for the unlimited class. Monster set a new record of 9:51, Rhys at 10:09 showed that his car was really capable on the mountain in only two years of running that car and Jean Phillipe had a very impressive appearance at 10:17 which is amazing for the first year on the mountain at all!


The Kerns were poised to break their own record. They headed up the mountain and as they did I turned my radio off. I didn’t want any of that audio on my video. So I waited. They passed by and when I saw their car my heart dropped. Something’s wrong. I turned the radio back on and found that they had crashed at ragged edge and later found out that they crashed, lost a headlight, lost a side skirt, tore a hole in their front suspension and tore the tire on their rear wheel. By the time they got to Cog Cut the were running on a rim and when they got to the top at 12:12 they found that they had just placed 4th in their class… 15 seconds down from the leader while running a flat for the last 5-6 miles of the race. Pretty amazing if you ask me, especially when the race is 12.42 miles long!


Jimmy and Spencer were battling it out as well. Both passed by at a crazy amount of speed and in the end they were separated by 1 second. 1 SECOND! It is incredible. Spencer took the win; Jimmy took second with Spencer’s time being 10:42. Now, here is a little detail for you. This is what impresses me the most. Spencer’s time of 10:42 was set in a car running used tires, a home made motor and duct tape nose cone. This is a homemade project with nearly no support. Spencer’s time was good for 4th fastest overall time on the mountain. This is up with cars that have hundreds of thousands of dollars wrapped up in them. Cars that show up with a crew of mechanics and specialists. Both his time and Jimmy’s time is just incredible to me when you look at the budgets involved. This is what makes Pikes Peak most impressive to me I love that a team with a car built in their garage can show up and challenge the biggest budget factory teams. I think it is an incredible race when money doesn’t dominate and experience skill can win. This really makes this race awesome to me and I am pretty fortunate to have the ability to spend time with these guys and experience the race through their eyes!

Register Crash Pano

I will have a video up from all of these cars and more very soon, in the mean time, check out some quick teasers…

Pikes Peak, Practice days

Three days of practice are done. Qualifying has happened and the results are online. The Kerns have been dialing in the vehicle all week. With a major change in suspension this year in response to the added tarmac the testing to dial in the suspensions performance is critical. We were finally able to get it dialed in to Dave’s needs on Thursday night.


This year Dave and Allison have been supported by AMS again for his engine setup, tuning etc. They have also been picked up by Federal Tires. One of the nice things about both of these sponsors is that they are here, they are hands on and they are bringing their own setup experience. So out at PPIR this week while testing they have been hands on, talking about suspension setups, tire pressures engine setup and more. It has been a very interesting experience and I can’t imagine that we would have gotten the setup to dave’s liking as quickly without them.


As we were heading out Dave Carapetyan’s crew rolled up with his newly built Unlimited car. So new in fact that it didn’t get to practice all week.

Dave C's Unlimited EVO

Dave C's Unlimited EVO

Dave C's Unlimited EVO

Dave C's Unlimited EVO

They were in for a late night and said they were hoping to be at practice on Friday however a blown head gasket held them back from that goal.

Dave C's Unlimited EVO

We’ve been shooting video all week as well, as you may remember from last year, we are doing a similar project again this year. Spencer Steel, Jimmy Olson, Savannah Rickli and Dave & Allison Kern are all participating and we may even have some video from a motorcyclist, Darryl Lujan. So far I have a ton of video.. I mean seriously, I can’t get through it all just yet, but I can show you a bit of a Teaser… So check this out.

Check back soon for more from the race!

Carbon EVO Dash | Part 2

I don’t know why I forget this stuff, but I am remembering how much work making a mold is… Yeah. It is one of those things that I remember when I really think about it, but when I haven’t done it for a while I convince myself that it will just take a few hours.

If you haven’t seen part one of this build check it out here. This time I have been going layer after layer, working my way up and trying to get a nice smooth final product. There have been some tricky parts like the airbag area and the vent holes. In addition the portion that I have made with foam is a bit tricky as well, occasionally when you get beyond the bondo layer you find out what happened very quickly when you hit the soft foam! I reached a point where I needed a much better visual indicator of what was going on. So I had to put a coat of glossy paint on in order to see the lines better than I could with the flat primer. So I chose a red paint and painted it up. It gave away some issues immediately. There were some sanding marks that were a bit deeper than anticipated, some waves that I needed to sort out and basically it just did exactly what it needed to do.

Carbon EVO dash project

Carbon EVO dash project

Carbon EVO dash project

So I did a full wet sand on the part and really smoothed it out. some spots got all the way back to bondo again through the paint layer and the primer layer. Once I got it all smoothed out another layer of glossy red and WOW! what a difference! It looks very good right now. There are a few little imperfections, they are all pits and will actually be easier to fix in the mold itself so I am going to leave them and sand them out of the final mold.

After the mold was fully prepped we took aluminum tape to create the rest of the part. Basically the part needs draft, so using the tape is much faster and easier to shape for portions of the mold that we don’t care about. Plus it doesn’t really stick to the fiberglass, so that helps as well.

Carbon EVO dash

Carbon EVO dash

Carbon EVO dash

I believe that there will be two more parts to this project, one more for the mold making and one more part for the final part that we pull off the mold. Check back soon!

Carbon EVO Dash… Part 1

Well, I always find my way into various projects. It is funny, the more things you say yes too the more that you can learn. So with that in mind I set off to make a new dash for the Kern Racing Pikes Peak EVO.

For those of you not familiar with this car, I have built a few parts for the Kerns already. Last year I worked on their Aero Package and in the last few years the Kerns, piloting this car, have held the record for the Time Attack 4wd class at Pikes Peak. This team is unstoppable with the proper equipment and I am happy to be able to help them with their quest.

This year they are switching to Pikes Peak Open. This allows them a few more options in lightening the vehicle. Weight is a huge advantage in racing. Lotus has a saying “performance through light weigh” this saying just means that you don’t need as much power if you have less to move. So with the new possibilities every option needs to be considered. So Dave has been working on ideas. Remove brackets, replace windows with lexan, remove lights, remove dash…. wait. We can’t remove the dash, we need that to block reflections from the windshield. we need it to hold critical components like the speedometer and switches that we need. So instead it needs to be a composite dash of some sort. Now to give you an idea, the current dash weighs in at 38lbs. That is a lot of weight! Why does it weight that much you ask? Well, glovebox, vent plumbing, plastic bits, tabs, mounting brackets and more stuff that isn’t needed in a race car all add up pretty fast. With a carbon dash, we should be able to get that down to about 2 lbs! 36lbs of weight savings!

So to start I began with the original dash. This is to provide the form of the dash that we will end up with rather than try to duplicate it out of foam. The first steps were to mount this to a board, and begin creating the form of the underside of the dash. This dash will have a slightly different shape than the original in order to minimize material and make it very stiff and light.

Carbon Dash Project

I started shaping the foam and coating it with bondo in order to create a nice solid surface to create the mold from. Any factory dash is going to have texture to it and I needed to eliminate that texture. So coating it with bondo while starting to fill in the holes was pretty crucial. We are eliminating all of the vents on this dash except for the defrost vent. This one we will still need!

Carbon Dash Project

Carbon Dash Project

After the first layers of bondo a lot of sanding goes on, I kept smoothing this thing down so that the dash shape stays the same. I don’t want to lose the form of the dash while slathering it with all this bondo, so I figure work my way up slowly. Once I got to a point that I felt comfortable I started filling in gaps. Vents on the sides were the first stop.

Carbon Dash Project

The vent holes on the front needed to be filled next, so a piece of foam went in and bondo was applied over top. This is a bit complicated because we really want to make sure the shape holds true to the shape that the dash gives us already. The last thing I’d want is for someone to be able to identify where the vents were at one point.


Slowly I built up layers and sanded them back to get the shape correct. Over a few attempts I got this thing pretty close.


I am sure you can see that there are a lot of colors going on now. Primer grey, bondo (grey), glazing putty (white) and the actual dash (black). All these colors start taking away the visual cues of the lines that you are looking for when you are trying to make a part. So the best plan is always to coat it again every once and a while. get a good idea what it looks like in one color and start working hard at the areas that need improvement. I knew that I wasn’t ready to be done, but I really wanted to see where I needed to work the hardest so I did a quick coat of primer. Nice and heavy and this time I did black so it would give a good visual indicator.




I am sure you can see that there are some inconsistencies in this thing. It isn’t perfect by any means and it isn’t perfectly straight or anything. But this is getting very close. I have a bit more sanding to do, I have a bit more bondo to do and hopefully in the next day or two I will be able to finish up this part of the project so I can start waxing it and pulling a mold off this buck. Check back for the next part. If you have any questions, post them up! I’ll try to answer them.



Oh, notice as well, all the seams are filled, all the switch locations are filled and everything is pretty close to smooth. Details are next!

Check out Part 2 of this project here

Kevlar and the Kerns

I’ve been living vicariously through some of my friends by helping them with their race cars. Mostly I’d say it has been Dave and Allison Kern. Originally I had helped them with some work on their Pikes Peak Hill Climb Evo. I did a bunch of work on their aero package, but also ended up welding some parts as well as installing and fitting body parts as well. It is fun to get to work on this stuff. There is a lot of problem solving and a lot of building, creating and working with your hands. Currently they are working on the creation of a BMW rally car.


The BMW will be used as a 2wd Rally car. It is cheaper to run and compete in and with a privateer budget that is good news. It is also going to provide the opportunity to run in Max Attack which is a 2wd specific rally event that will give them good competition in an affordable package. If all that wasn’t enough the BMW will be set up so the drivers seat is able to accommodate a shorter driver or a taller one…so Allison now has the ability to drive!

The car has been caged by SCR Performance but Dave is taking on the majority of the rest of the work. The beginning steps (beyond all the research that he has into figuring out the parts for the car) is the underbody. The BMW isn’t exactly designed for Rally, so you have a couple options. Paint the car and replace the chassis when it gets wrecked or try to protect the chassis. The plan for this car was to protect the chassis with Kevlar and Macropoxy. Macropoxy is a paint that is a good barrier against rust and light impact. Kevlar, well that takes the bigger dings and dents well. The EVO Works well with the Kevlar under body, but it is separating a bit in places, so this time we tried a few different tricks to try to keep the body and the kevlar together.


The Kevlar now has epoxy that has been seeped into all the welded seams so it hopefully gets more adheason, also we put chunks of Kevlar into some of the gaps between seem welds so those will hopefully give the kevlar even more places to adhere.


It is a messy process, so we only have a few photos of this part. This is what the end result looks like. Almost time to flip the car over and start putting parts on it!



I’ll be helping them out whenever I can, so keep an eye back and I’ll post up some progress as we go. In the mean time you can check them out on Facebook

Kern Racing Fan Page

Pikes Peak International Hill Climb….practice

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.