I spent pretty much the entire week climbing around Pikes Peak in order to get shots for this small video project that I was working on. The project was to create a PPIHC video that features a group of smaller name, lower budget drivers and I guess I root for the underdog so I really enjoy bringing these names to the front of peoples minds if I can.
After spending that week collecting footage, you know I am going too also shoot other cars too so I put together a lot of Extra footage to put that out there as well. This is very comprehensive. It is nearly every car that practiced with the unlimited/time attack cars and a few others as well. There are a ton of locations and this was all shot by me over the 3 practice days, race day and the test and Tune day. Enjoy!
We crossed the startline at 4:30 AM and joined the procession up the hill. We were constantly moving as we rose up in elevation from 9000ft to 12,800ft and it took us 27 minutes to reach Devils playground. That is 9 miles and probably about 115 turns to get to this point. Racers take between 10.01 and 15 minutes to reach the summit which was another 2.5 miles away! I love this sort of perspective. It is incredible to think of the absolute skill, experience, precision and courage it takes to negotiate some of these corners and conditions at the speeds that it takes to make it to the top in this amount of time.
From our perch at Devils Playground we watched as the sun rose, it is always an amazing sight from the top of a mountain, but Pikes Peak has a certain way about it that seems to saturate the colors to bring the sunrise to life. Our time in the parking area consisted of making a nice hot meal and preparing for our hike up the mountain. Hiking up to Boulder park is a bit of a distance to cover and has an elevation gain of about 1200 ft. But it is worth it. The views from the final sections of dirt road are amazing. As the classes progressed we began making our way back to Devils playground. The clouds were beginning to close in on the mountain and with the threat of lightning it is always nice to know you are reasonably close to shelter.
The racing was intense. As a spectator you need to be patient with any TT style racing. One car passes then several minutes later another passes. It isn’t the constant action of a Formula 1 race or motocross race. You have to appreciate what the drivers are doing in order to appreciate this race. To give you an idea of what the drivers are doing here is a bit of a run-through of their drive to the top:
Monster Tajima’s car is said to have about 950hp at the start line. When he takes off he is accelerating through the start line on perfect pavement. Traveling at speeds up to 130 mph in a car by himself with nobody else helping him to know what is coming up. Drivers often loose track of where they are on the road because of the sheer quantity of turns. Each turn starts looking more and more like the last and there are pretty popular corners, like Engineers corner, that claim drivers who fall into this trap. When he approaches the Picnic grounds he is traveling at his max speed of about 130mph when he has to transition to dirt! This year the dirt was treated with Mag-chloride which firms up the dirt, but doesn’t make it drive like tarmac. So at this point he starts getting into switchbacks. (2009 shot of 11 mile’s drifting left hand corner) He needs to adjust his driving style to the type of traction that the new surface provides while going into a complicated drifting turn into a very tight and slower switchback. As he ascends the mountain he is constantly loosing power as he gains elevation and as he passes the ski area there are several deceptive corners. (2006 shot, heading into the Ski Area parking area) One I have heard people refer to as the “rookie corner” but that isn’t its real name. This is, what appears to be a soft right turn, but it has a later apex than people realize. Sliding off to the outside is a definite possibility if you carry to much speed. The corners continue to relentlessly bombard the drivers through this section. Drivers have to drift sideways to carry speed and they are on constantly variable conditions because of the mix of Mag-Chloride and loose dirt. They need to plan for a corner, but at the same time they need to be ready to react to a sudden unexpected spot of traction gain or loss. If you watch their in car cameras you can see constant corrections. A final hairpin left takes the drivers into a section of rough tarmac and dirt mixed together. This is Glen Cove and once they pass through a toll gate they are back on Tarmac. They accelerate up through some of the most intense elevation gains in the course through some of the tightest corners on the course.
A portion of this section is called the “W’s” this section looks like a cursive “W” from above but consists of very tight turns linked with long switchbacks. As they ascend into 18mile they round a corner in excess of 80mph that has no guard rail on the outside and has exposure of nearly 1000 ft.
Drivers corner a hairpin left and a 90 degree right out of devils playground into a drifting turn that changes from tarmac to dirt. This year the Monster nearly lost it on this transition. Carrying that much speed through two distinct surface conditions is a tricky task! This dirt up top is not treated with Mag-Chloride and is definitely more dusty and loose.
Drivers now have yet another condition to adjust too and in addition their cars are loosing power. The Monster has lost at least 140hp by this point just because of the lack of oxygen. Drivers also have to cope with this sudden drop in available oxygen since only 7 minutes before they were at 9000ft and now they are at 13,000ft!
Drivers head into Boulder park which has a series of turns that have claimed some of the best drivers in the past and head up Ragged edge.
This section lives up to its name with a very significant view of the exposure as you head up to a very sharp left hand turn.
Now there is a transition from dirt to pavement here as well, so driver need to adjust their driving style yet again! (2008 shot of the S turn at Boulder Park) As they approach the summit they have a high speed left turn that takes them across the finish line before they can start breathing again. At this final acceleration the monsters 950hp car is pushing only 665hp!
Of course this account is pretty basic and it completely eliminates variables like weather. Each year weather at the summit can vary from warm sun to cold, to rain, to snow, to hail and each year you are very likely to see several of these conditions throughout the day. The number of surface conditions that a driver can see on their way up the mountain are infinite and the number of changes to the course that they practice can be infinite as well. Spectators are often in the wrong place, they will spectate from racing lines and unknowingly cause drivers to have to adjust their line in order to avoid people.
Our view of the race was speckled with lightning strikes in the distance and nice puffy white clouds in the foreground. we could see the clouds sweeping over the summit and hoped that they wouldn’t sweep by as a driver was headed up. Adding the element of fog to the course is very dangerous and would be very hard for a driver to recover from. We watched as drivers drove past and listened as their motors climbed to the summit. Crowds would leap off the side trails when a V8 would rev in the distance and wait for it to pass by. We watched the final motorcycles from Devils playground. the amount of control it takes to drift a motorcycle around a corner is astounding and it is impressive to watch as they transition from tarmac to dirt as well. The final vehicle of the day was driven by Mike Ryan. He drives a Freightliner… that is right, a semi cab. He is an incredible driver and words can not describe the sight of a semi drifting around corners.
When the drivers are all finished there is a procession down the mountain. The spectators line the road and the drivers come down. I find this to be one of the most awesome parts of this race. To most spectators a driver is the number on the side of his car. There is no face or personality, there is a car that they are cheering for. At Pikes Peak each driver is someone to congratulate, a hand to slap five and a face that you can put with all that crazy driving you just watched head up the hill! I put a camera on Dave and Allison Kern’s car a couple years ago and at the end of their run they ran the camera on the way down. It is really cool to hear the kids ask them to rev the engine and the fans who are congratulating them on a fast time! (check it out toward the end of this video)
Throughout the day I shoot photos, but anymore I enjoy the race. It is funny, when I get home I always wish I took more photos, but when I am there I really enjoy taking in all that is going on. Anyhow, enjoy this recap and enjoy some of the photos that I DID take this time around.
If you have made it this far, definitely check out my entry from Practice as well. There are lots more photos there and more recap as well. Check back because we ran in-car cameras on several cars and you can follow this link to see the initial video from the incar GoPro’s Open Wheel Car videos
If you know me, you know I love this race. It is more than just cars racing against a clock, it is cars racing against extremely variable conditions, history, the clock and themselves. The more time I spend on the mountain and the more drivers that I have the good fortune to get to know the more I realize how much this race means to the people who participate.
This year I spend a good deal of my “spare” time helping the Kern’s prep their evo. The car is fantastic, but unfortunately two weeks before practice started at PPIHC they had a major failure. I rod blew through both sides of the engine block causing a large fireball to sweep through their engine compartment and wipe out most of their electronics. This is a HUGE setback, but Dave is probably the most determined guy I know… and apparently requires less sleep than anyone else in human history.
After countless hours packed into two weeks as well as a trip to chicago to have a new motor installed and tuned dave returned the day before the tech inspection and we buttoned up the final details throughout the day of tech inspection. It seemed that the impossible had been done. The car now sported a new aero package, all body panels had been fixed, new rear diff and of course a new power plant. This thing was about as new as could be! So I went to bed anticipating a good day. It is satisfying to go to bed knowing that you helped accomplish what you thought wouldn’t be accomplishable.
Practice began Wednesday and I woke from a bit of a nap at 5:30 am to the sound of a safety car passing by. The practice was about to begin and the sun was just rising. We had the opportunity to see Rhys Millens new car. This thing is a lemans style car that is built specifically for Pikes Peak. It is amazing to watch, but it is clear that it has some bugs to be worked out. The acceleration that it is capable of is intense however! We had the opportunity to see Dave and Allison fly up the mountain as well. Run after run they were looking smooth! Their lines were great and they were definitely looking fast. We had our eye on a few other cars as well. Spencer Steele and Jimmy Olson were running onboard cameras for a little project that I am playing with and they both drive pretty awesome open wheel cars. In addition the Monster has fully updated his vehicle and he is serious about trying to beat the 10 minute barrier again this year. It is always amazing to hear the high RPM roar of a stock car V8 as well. Those things sound so incredibly angry when they are under full throttle and finally Jeff Zwart in his Porsche GT3 cup car…well that thing just sounds amazing.
After the first day of practice we headed down and saw Dave and Allison fussing over the car. I pulled off and they had the motor apart. Turns out their timing belt snapped and basically obliterated the top end of their brand new, 3 run old motor. I couldn’t believe it! Dave hadn’t slept in probably 2 weeks and now this happens.
The next day we were on the top section. This section is the least viewed section since all the spectators typically are stopped at Devils playground. Boulder park is our choice viewing location and we were up there to see Rhys spin out, watch ACP show up and see an amazing sunrise. Dave flew past us again! How could he have possibly fixed that thing? Well, turns out they replaced the top end of the motor and during their run…well the bottom end let go.
On the third day of practice we were on the bottom section of the mountain. I was feeling pretty refreshed from several days of good sleep and recovery and was out taking some photos. We got word from Dave. They now had a stock motor in the car, but it was going onto the Dyno in an hour. That guy is an animal. Nothing will stop the Kerns from competing! Dave hasn’t had proper sleep in easily 2 weeks and yet the spirit hasn’t changed, his motivation is still just as high as it was when the week began. It is incredible!
After a full day of practice I went down to talk to my open wheeler friends. Jimmy and Spencer were having a good day, but Spencers motor let go as well. “Nothing I can’t fix before the race” he said in his normal mater of fact way. I was chatting with Jimmy’s wife Andrea afterward and she mentioned that she’d been coming up here since 1978 and told me about all the changes that have happened. I had a realization that this race is not just a race to most of these drivers. It is a family tradition, it is an annual reunion with racing friends. The banter that goes back and forth is from years and years of handing trophies back and forth to one another. It is fun to watch this race and I can say I have a sincere appreciation for the history and challenge that this race presents but I wonder if it will ever mean as much to me as it does to these people.
Today is friday, the event is Sunday and Dave now has a car that is in one piece. The car has been dyno tuned and not tested at all. The motor that is in the car is the same motor that they set the standing record in their class. (Time Attack 4wd) But the motor is about 250hp less than the motor that they started the event with. Anticipation is building as the weather reports show poor conditions approaching. It is going to be an interesting year on the mountain this year and only time will tell how it all plays out.
So for a few years I was a contributer to AutoWeek magazine. I shot photos and wrote articles for the Pikes Peak Hill climb. It was a very fun gig and I really enjoy that race, but eventually I had to give it up. I just have to many things on my plate and I needed to ease back a bit.
One of my first articles for AutoWeek is one that I am most proud of. I was able to write for them with no restrictions. My article was just what I wanted it to be and although I felt that I could have expanded it a bit, it is an article that I would like to save. So take a moment and read this if you have a chance. I’d love to hear feedback, but I also just want to share it.
Spectating at Pikes Peak is NOT for everyone. It is a full commitment sort of thing. You need to know when you leave your house at 1 am that you will not be getting home anytime soon. You will be sleeping in your car, you will be eating whatever you brought with you and you will be dealing with the elements with whatever you are prepared with. You need to be ready to be isolated to one place on a mountain side for a solid 12 hours.
At 2:45 am we rolled up to the line of cars that had already formed at the Pikes Peak Highway gate. We were about a mile back fromt the gate and we were ready, sleep was tough to come by even at this hour…so we waited…we chatted and we watched the row of racecars that drove up the access lane. At 4 am the gates opened and we followed the twisty road up and up the mountain. It is fun driving up there at night because you can see the headlights of the cars ahead of you traversing the road thousands of feet above and below you.
We arrived at our destination, 12,760 feet above sea level, Devils Playground. We parked the car and attempted to sleep. Anticipation is the key problem to sleeping however, so sleep was light and strange. Dreams mixed with reality and eventually we awoke to see the sun shining, it was 7am, 2 more hours.
We prepared for the day, a light hike to about 13,300 ft to see Boulder Park, then we would slowly make our way back to Devils playground.
Cars were on their way when we arrived in Boulder Park. Actually they were on their way, completely out of order. We were fortunate to have arrived prior to the Unlimited classes departure however, so we got to see them speed past at unimaginable speeds through corners and at the edge of clifs on the way up to 14,000 ft.
We began heading back along the road in order to take advantage of a few shooting locations, but the weather began to turn, so we started making quicker time back to the safety of the car. We spend some time using the cars shelter, then time out on the course watching and spectating the race. Rain came, lightning, hail, sleet and sun… Temperatures fluctuated from cold to hot in an instant and the road’s personality was revealed. I don’t think the mountain wanted to be beaten that day. 10:15 was the fastest time, posted by Monster Tajima. Marcus Gronholm crossed the line about a minute slower, with a blown turbo and a rear wheel/tire/brake on fire. Eriksson crashed at Engineers corner, which is a popular crash location and Mark Rennison posted a mediocre time because of engine trouble.
Dave and Allison Kern were looking amazing all week during practice…however their car just sounded a bit different during the race. They posted a time of 12:15 (approximately) and I came to find out that they lost an intercooler line at the start line. They went from 30lbs of boost to 4-8lbs in an instant. The power loss was dramatic but they were able to capture 2nd place even with this loss! Imagine what they will be capable of with all their horsepower available.
I am already looking forward to next year. I have my fingers crossed that Gronholm and Eriksson will return ready to take on the mountain with a bit more experience under their belts. I hope to see Rennison return, maybe with a more reliable motor and I hope to see the Dave and Allison Kern return with their motor in full working order too.
Pikes Peak is an amazing race, there is no other event that I am aware of that puts the spectators so close to the race, the drivers, the cars and the course. The history of the mountain is a great thing. I look forward to seeing it again… and if you are an event organizer reading this, drop me a line, i’d love to help you make this race even bigger and better than it is already.