You might expect Porsche factory driver Romain Dumas to spend a week celebrating his second Le Mans overall win. Instead, he hopped the next flight to Colorado and – at 5am Tuesday – started practicing in his Norma-Honda AWD prototype on the ever-daunting Pikes Peak, hoping for his second overall win on the mountain.
Competition was stiff. Electric-powered vehicles have come into their own on Pikes Peak, especially since they require no oxygen, a distinct advantage in a race that begins at 9500 feet above sea level and finishes at 14,110. Last year’s winner Rhys Millen was back in his Latvian-built eO, now with an improved drive train and a rumored 1,300 horsepower. Acura brought a 4-motor prototype based on the NSX for Tetsuya Yamano that was blindingly fast. And perennial innovator Nobuhiro “Monster” Tajima was back with his Tajima e-Runner. And one can never count out Coloradan Paul Dallenbach, driving a more classical high-winged open-wheel car with tons of tire-screeching power. The stage was set for a great 100th Anniversary Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.
It took Dumas only a few runs up and down the twisty road in his rental car to get reacquainted on a course he hadn’t driven since his last win in 2014. From the outset he was blindingly fast on every practice run. Racers are only allowed to practice the course in thirds, but if Dumas’ times held up on race-day, he would win. Only one question: Would the car last? Dumas’ Norma-Honda is extremely light, paired with massive power, and a complex AWD system. The Honda is essentially an Indy-car engine tuned for altitude. On Friday’s last practice, Dumas made it only a mile up the road when something broke. Was this an omen for the race?
The team worked 36 hours straight to solve the problem – something with the intercooler – and the car was ready to go for Sunday. And GO it did! Though the field is still not close to Sebastian Loeb’s 2013 record of 8:13, Dumas drove to an 8:51.445 win, followed closely by Millen’s 8:57.118. There are now three drivers in the Pikes Peak eight-minute club. What was once thought impossible is now doable. Loeb’s record in the Peugeot is still safe, but not entirely out of reach.
Another notable win came from David Donner, driving his GT3R in Time Attack 1. Donner has been racing the car in club events throughout the year and brought it to Pikes Peak mostly to celebrate the 100th anniversary and to represent his family, who was inducted into the Pikes Peak Hill Climb Hall of Fame this year.
Other than raising the ride height for the bumps at the top of the course, Donner made no changes to the car from its club-racing set-up, skipping any gear-ratio changes since he will be circuit-racing the car again in a few weeks. Even without the optimal set-up, Donner counted on the Porsche’s grip and handling and his 30 years of experience on the mountain to make his 10:00.813 run good enough for his sixth Pikes Peak win. Donner’s closest rival, Dumas protégé Raphael Astier drove a Porsche GT3 Cup to second place in TA1 with a 10:06.006. The 2014 Time Attack II winner Fred Veitch piloted a 2016 Cayman GT4 Clubsport to a fine ninth in TA1, not bad considering he was giving away a minimum of 150 horsepower to his competitors and considerable grip. Still the car was one of the most beautiful on the mountain.
Time Attack II was Porsche-less this year, allowing Nick Robinson to take the class title for the new Acura NSX, though his time was short of Donner’s 2015 record.
Perennial Vintage class winner Chris Lennon had mechanical problems with his RSR tribute car for much of the testing and practice season and withdrew from the race at the halfway point with overheating issues. Robert Prilika, racing his GT3 Cup finished in third place in the Open division.