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!
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.
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!
I will have a video up from all of these cars and more very soon, in the mean time, check out some quick teasers…
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.
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.
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.
First off, I have to say, it is substantially harder to “cover” PPIHC and also help as a half assed crew member than I anticipated… but… Oh well all 17 of you that read this will just have to deal with the lack of photos!
I arrived on Tuesday evening and rolled down to see a pretty relaxed looking Dave and Allison Kern. Sitting down to dinner, taking a moment away from the car. This was already starting out quite a bit different than the 2010 season for them. Now don’t think for a second that there wasn’t anything to do, that everything was done. This is racing and everything is NEVER done! After a bit of dinner tending to the details began. Final adjustment of the front splitter using prefabricated mounting hardware (doorstops from home depot) finalizing venting locations and mounting for the front brakes and on top of that we had a few cameras to mount and well… some decals to install!
The work continued until nearly 11 since we also did a few things to another competitors car. Tom of Wright Group Event Services. They are a sponsor of Dave and Allison’s car and, he has an evo too, which made fitting the Kerns spare exhaust onto it that much easier.
Once both cars were buttoned up we packed it in and practice began. 2:30am is a tough time to wake up, but I managed and got onto the mountain. There is definitely something awesome about that mountain. Sitting there waiting for the sun to rise from 12k ft is a beautiful sight that I can’t get enough of. This year I am shooting primarily VIDEO. yes, you may have seen shots from last years effort with Spencer and Jimmy, but this year I am doing my best to shoot some exterior shots and I will be putting together something with the onboard footage we will have very soon. Definitely check back, it should be pretty awesome.
After practice we shot a few shots on the mountain for the Kern’s Promo use. Allison was already in her street clothes so she decided to sit out the photoshoot.
The Kerns headed out for more testing and tuning at PPIR. Dialing in suspension settings, tire pressures etc. This is critical. It is amazing to think about how much work goes into a race week. The spectators come home, exhausted, crash for a few hours and then venture back into the world, the racers, well they are constantly working. tweaking, tuning and when all that is done… cleaning! I joined them to help out any way I could. To be honest I was mostly in the way this time. AMS tuners Mitch and Martin were there turning wrenches, recording data, doing math. Lots of stuff that I just simply didn’t want to mess up so I stepped back and observed. At the end of the session Dave told me to hop in and took me for a ride. Wow that thing is fast. I can’t say that I have experienced that kind of speed in a vehicle that was designed to stay on the ground!
Day two came and went as well. The upper practice section of the course is the most freshly paved section. Many have been wondering what it is going to do to the race and honestly it is kinda interesting. The biggest problem with the paved sections? Well that would be the dirt! Race cars use ALL of the track so kicking up a bit of dirt here and there is pretty common, On a dirt surface you have a speed and a constant surface. On pavement this dirt from the sides of the road that ends up on the middle of the road turns the road to “unpredictable.” You can’t just trust that the car is going to take what you throw at it because you may be throwing it at pavement and you may throw it at marbley gravel. You just can’t know. This bit a few folks in the butt today, we watched several take some quick trips off course, but I don’t believe any were serious crashes.
I don’t have as many photos as normal, but here is a quick shot or two from the end of today.
Of course I have one quick video clip from today. I happened to get a quick shot of Bill Caswell rallying a corner up high at Gravel pit today!
In other news, Photographer Joel Yust has been developing new salsa to test the mettle of teams on the mountains. Grant, from SCR Performance stepped up to the plate. “A half an hour later and it got hot in my mouth again!”
Well after a week on the mountain and posting GoPro’s all over two open wheel cars I had a chance to tinker with the footage we got. Unfortunately I haven’t had as much time as I’d like, but we put together a nice little video. The audio is all engine and the speed is all as it happened. It is pretty impressive to ride along and see how close they get to the edge!
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
Every year there is at least one test and tune day for drivers up on Pikes Peak. Drivers head up and shell out some cash to be able to run the mountain for two mornings well before the mountain opens for normal traffic. In recent years this has been more and more important with more and more of the mountain turning into paved roads.
This year I organized a group of drivers and we are planning on doing a small video project. The project will involve 4 teams and each team will be running cameras on their car. We will have some cameras on the mountain as well and in the end we should have a pretty cool video! Since a couple drivers were heading down to the practice day I threw a camera on Spencer Steele’s car to let him play with the camera and check out the video that it is able to record. Spencer was also worried because having a big block motor putting out serious horsepower bolted straight to a tube chassis, well it is a bit to much for any camera he has used before, so he was worried that this one may not hold up. I was curious as well, so we bolted it up and tried it out.
His second run of the morning resulted in this video. Of course there is a bit of crap on the lens, but check it out.