10 reasons why Pikes peak is the GRANDDADDY of hill climbs

PIKES PEAK towers above the rest

4y ago

As a driver competing in hillclimbing for over ten years now, I’ve raced at quite a few courses including some of the best (and fastest!) in Europe, but there’s always been one hill that’s towered above the rest - Pikes Peak International Hillclimb in Colorado.

So here’s why it’s so special, like a moth to a flame...

1. It’s the granddaddy of them all (even older than your grandad)

It first ran in 1916, its over a 100 years old and bested only by a couple of years to Shelsley Walsh in Worcester. If you’re looking for a hillclimb with a lot of history then look no further.

People have been racing up Pikes Peak for a very long time indeed

People have been racing up Pikes Peak for a very long time indeed

2. You could be quicker than Walter Röhrl...

Hillclimbing is often seen as a niche sport, so it’s fair to say that you don’t have many chances to rub shoulders with some of motorsports most celebrated drivers.

Pikes Peak however has attracted some of the biggest names out there - Ari Vatanen, Stig Blomqvist, Bobby & Robby Unser as well as Michéle Mouton and current outright record holder Sébastien Loeb.

Sébastien Loeb on the his way to setting his record time

Sébastien Loeb on the his way to setting his record time

Imagine seeing your name go down in the history books right next to 2016 (and Le Mans) winner Romain Dumas...

Plus it’s now 100% tarmac, so technically you might be quicker than Walter Röhrl, although not quite as cool.

3. Think you have a good memory? Try this for size...

In the UK our courses are under a mile. Travel to Europe and that distance can be getting nearer to four miles.

I remember my first season racing a Formula Renault in the French National Championship and having to really work hard at my technique to memorise a new course every other weekend. It’s not easy when you may only get three practice runs and three competition runs over a weekend - you'll have memories your pace notes.

So consider this: Pikes Peak is 12.4 miles long, with 156 corners, and here’s the best bit - you only get one shot! So Playstations and YouTube at the ready because unless you live in Colorado Springs you won’t have a lot of time to learn it.

4. You’ll need to go Supersize on the bravery

Hillclimbing is all about pushing yourself alone and conquering your fear.

There's no one to chase out front and no one behind you nudging you to go faster - it’s just you, the gas pedal and the road ahead.

Louis Unser, six time winner of the annual Labor Day Pikes Peak auto race, in his Italian Maserati Special in the 1946 event

Louis Unser, six time winner of the annual Labor Day Pikes Peak auto race, in his Italian Maserati Special in the 1946 event

When you cross the finish and see your time, only you know if you bottled it and lifted when someone else was probably flat - there are no excuses.

If you want to win at PPIHC then you’d better upscale your bravery pretty fast, because only the truly committed (and slightly crazy) can win here.

5. There are rabbits that eat donuts... apparently

A local lady by the name of Feline Pedrouse told me there is a species of rabbit that lives on the mountain that will eat the donuts they sell in the gift shop at the summit...

However this may be a wind up as I asked two people in there and they all looked at me as if I was crazy - I blamed the lack of oxygen (see racing driver book of excuses).

Play video

6. It’s the Holy Grail of Hillclimbing

Challenges don’t come any bigger or more daunting than this - see that drop without any armco where the blue sky meets the tarmac? That goes 4,000ft straight down, you might not stop rolling until your reach the startline...

Full speed with nothing between you and a 4000ft drop if you get it a tiny bit wrong

Full speed with nothing between you and a 4000ft drop if you get it a tiny bit wrong

Still think you’ve got what it takes to be King (or Queen) of the mountain?

7. You’ll need oxygen to climb this mountain ...

You’ll be at 14,115ft if and when you reach the chequered flag at Cog Cut, and the engine won’t be the only thing gasping for more air.

Having spent an afternoon hanging around at altitude, it makes you feel quite giddy and I noticed a fair few of the cars had oxygen bottles bolted to the roll cages.

8. ... but you could come home with one of the coolest photos in motorsport

Practice takes place all week between 5.30 - 8.30am as the road is open to the public during the day.

If you’ve ever seen photos of the cars taken as the sun rises with the road snaking it’s way back down in the valley, you’ll know what I mean.

I want one on my wall, preferably showing a bit of opposite lock and a drop that would make Indiana Jones sweat...

9. Because there’s a record to be broken

The current ladies' record of 10:65.876 was set in 2016 by Stephanie Reeves driving a Dodge Viper ACR in Time Attack 2 production class.

It’s a fast time for sure, but I’d like to try and go faster... and get a photo doing it (see above!).

10. Because the view from the top is like no other race on earth

I had to get up at 2am on Sunday morning to drive up the hill and get in position at the Devil’s playground for the start of the race.

We slept in the car until 6am (it was cold) and woke at dawn as the clouds surrounding us slowly lifted, only to be greeted with one of the most incredible sights I’ve ever seen.

Play video

View from the Devil's Playground on race day

Imagine you’re sat looking down on a see of clouds as track the claws and twists its way through forests and the valley below, the blue snow capped mountains in the distance resemble something from Lord of the Rings while helicopters buzz overhead.

Now you know why it’s called Race to the Clouds.

I’m hoping to enter next year with my teammate Freddy Niblack, wish us luck and if you fancy making the trip over I can promise you won’t be disappointed - you can follow my progress at www.facebook.com/charliemartinofficial

Join In

Comments (9)

  • great read, you had me gasping for air. I've promoted this to Best of USA and the Drivetribe USA facebook page! ^Joachim

      4 years ago
  • Ladies record of 10:65? would that be 11:05? It's safer now but I preferred it before it was tarmaced. The Air Vatenen Climb Dance video is well worth a watch.

      4 years ago
  • This is tremendous, what a place! And what a thing to do. I wish you all the luck in the world Charlie!

      4 years ago
  • www.csbj.com/2016/04/01/new-species-derails-summit-house/

    Here is the sustenance for the rabbit declaration

      3 years ago
  • Sorry, but the record belongs to Sébastien Loeb in a Peugeot 208 T16 Pikes Peak, set in 2013 with a time of 8:13.878....

      4 years ago