Pikes Peak International Hill Climb 2021 Recap
My first experience as a photographer at one of the most intense races in the world.
Day 1 (11,440-112,780 ft.)
The moonlight woke me up and I glanced over at the clock, it read 1:30am. Day one of five where I would be waking up 4 hours before sunrise had officially started. The Broadmoor Pikes Peak International Hill Climb provides a unique challenge to media members not only because of the elevation ranging between 9,390 - 14,115 feet, but also because your entire sleeping schedule has to be turned on it's head. Despite the early morning wake up call, the rewards are certainly worth the challenge. Under the cover of darkness, I packed my gear and made my way to the base of the mountain arriving to what felt like the entrance of a theme park. All of the competitors and media members lined up waiting for the gateway to open. As the clock hit 3:45am members of the press wound their way up the mountain to prepare for practice. Pikes Peak is broken up into 3 different sections for practice, on day one I chose to cover the middle section which starts at 11,440 ft and ends at 12,780 ft. The adrenaline and excitement coursing through me made it impossible to nap in my car, so I prepped my camera gear and made my way to the first corner of the day. What I was greeted with was nothing short of incredible. At 5:30am I could hear the first car tearing up the mountain and at the exact same time the sun started to crest over the horizon just above Colorado Springs.
After the first run I ran down the mountain alongside the cars to see what the next turn had to offer. The unique setting of the race allowed me to play with the landscape and showcase the cars in the surrounding natural environment. Typically when I cover cars at tracks I focus equally on panning shots and still images, but at Pikes Peak I almost exclusively focused on freezing the action of the cars.
Derek Boyd powering up the mountain in his 2008 Mitsubishi Lance Evolution X. This was one of my favorite corners to shoot because you could either photograph the competitors head on or from above.
Steve Zimmer pushing the limit in a 2016 Porsche Cayman GT4.
Choosing how far down the mountain you want to go during practice is a tough decision because at the end of the day the hike up is brutal. Despite the challenging hike, I kept working my way down and found more epic vistas awaiting me.
Romain Dumas on the edge of the world in a beautiful 2019 Porsche 911 GT2RS Clubsport.
Laurent Millara working his way up the mountain just above Double Cut with its impressive rock formations.
Day 2 (9,300-10,900 ft)
Day 2 of practice began in a similar fashion to the first, although this time I decided to focus on the lower section of the mountain to take a break from the high altitude. The lower section was host to qualifying for Exhibition, Open Wheel, and Porsche Pikes Peak Trophy by Yokohama. The lower elevation brought me deep into the woods making for quite the contrast compared to the long views of the day prior.
Codie Vahsholtz in a 2013 Ford Open racing through the woods early in day 2 of practice. The woods were quite a change from the long vistas of the day prior.
Shawn Bassett in his home built 1974 Datsun 240Z. I love the design of this car and made sure to photograph it every time it blew by.
As the first group of cars passed by I had a quick 10 minute window to work my way down to the next area. It felt almost entirely different as the sun broke through the clouds and cast a beautiful golden light through the forest.
Just beyond the corner where these photos were taken I was able to catch the cars coming back down the mountain. It was the only time I got a photo of the competitors with the peak of the mountain in the background.
Nick Robinson heading back down the mountain in a 2017 Acura NSX after his run during day 2 of practice.
The final corner of the day was at 11 Mile Water Station. This was one of my favorite loca from my week out on the mountain. The composition I found was what I had been looking for the whole day and was a great way to finish day 2.
Gregoire Blachon in his monster 2021 VW Bug Proto TRI-TDI Diesel. This car would belch smoke when it changed gears making for very unique photos.
Rodney O'Maley in a 2018 O'Maley Special Spec VI. Every time I saw the open wheel cars racing by I just couldn't believe how loud they were! I was also freezing cold most of the time so I couldn't imagine racing with no coverage from the elements.
Day 3 (11,440-12,780 ft)
Day 3 of practice was rough. I decided I wanted to cover the middle section again because I really liked the photos I got there on day 1. Little did I know that it was going to be 33 degrees with freezing rain and 30-40mph gusts of wind. As I got to the gateway at the bottom it started to drizzle, then as I worked my way up to park the drizzle quickly turned into a downpour. I had 4 layers on to keep myself from becoming a complete popsicle. My biggest fear was not losing my fingers, but that my gear would stop working in the crazy conditions. Fortunately, it all held up and I came away with shots that made the cold totally worth it.
George Hess III braving the elements in his 2020 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport.
Kathryn Mead winding his way up the mountain in the early morning rain.
After an hour and a half the rain calmed and I was able to move down from the first turn. I had covered this turn previously on day 1, but was still able to find unique compositions. The wind was whipping and I was shivering, but that didn't matter, all I cared about was capturing the epic light!
Shawn Bassett on top of the world!
The Bug belching smoke on its way to the top.
The rocky landscape of Pikes Peak creates a great backdrop for this beautiful Cayman working its way down the mountain after practice.
Day 4 (12,780-14,115 ft)
Day 4 of practice introduced many new and exciting challenges. My focus for the day was the upper section of the mountain where even the smallest of steps sapped my energy. I arrived early in the morning and hiked for 45 minutes guided only by the moon's light to the spot I wanted to shoot for sunrise. The temperature felt like it was well below freezing and I lost feeling in my fingers immediately. The only remedy was pinwheeling my arms like a mad man until the cars arrived. The top section of Pikes Peak feels and looks like another planet. I was able to see for miles in every direction as the sun rose in a rocky landscape unlike anything I had seen the whole week.
Shawn Basset driving towards the rising sun on his way to the top of Pikes Peak!
Kathryn Mead coming through the final section of Pikes Peak early in the morning.
The location I started at proved to be quite difficult for me to wrap my head around. It was such a wide open space with so many possibilities that after and hour or so I decided to move on down the road to see what the rest of the upper section had to offer. As I rounded the corner I was pleasantly surprised. The road wound it's way up towards me and I was able to use a 600mm lens to showcase the otherworldly elements surrounding the competitors.
Kathryn Mead under the shadow of the mountain.
Joshua Allen in a 2021 Tesla Model 3 dwarfed by the surrounding rocky landscape on his way to the top.
Gregoire Blachon coming down the mountain at the end of day 4.
Race day was unlike any other day. As I came up the mountain early in the morning I noticed just how many more people were arriving at the same time. I didn't realize that spectators were driving up the mountain and camping alongside the road prior to sunrise in order to catch a glimpse of these incredible race cars. Adding to the madness was the fact that the top section of the mountain had been snowed on over night causing the finish line to be relocated lower down the mountain so the race could go on. The atmosphere at the base was really special with spectators wandering around and admiring all of the cars engineered specifically for Pikes Peak. My goal for race day was to get portraits of the drivers just prior to them launching at the start line.
Tanner Foust visualizing the route to victory just before the green flag.
In addition to taking portraits of the drivers, I was able to get some really cool shots of the cars as they pulled up to the start line and the green flag was dropped.
Tim Hardy getting the green flag in his 1987 BMW E30.
Daijiro Yoshihara's Tesla moving up to the start line.
James Clay burning rubber in his 1996 BMW M3 at the start of Pikes Peak.
I'm looking forward to next year's 100th running of The Broadmoor Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. My first time attending this world renowned event was an absolute blast and I can't wait to see what else the mountain has to offer.