2018 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb: The Unmovable Object Meets The Irresistible Force

by | July 2018

Weather comes to Pikes Peak. One is unmovable, the other irresistible. It makes for great images and challenging racing.

Photos by Sean Cridland

 

Romain Dumas has often described his first Pikes Peak, in 2012 when he lost to Rhys Millen by .017 of a second, as the worst day of his life. If we take him at his word, then June 24, 2018 had to be his best. Not only did he win the race overall, but his time of 7:57.148 smashed Sebastian Loeb’s 2013 record of 8:13.878, making him and his Volkswagen I.D. R the first driver/car combination to dip into the unimaginable 7-minute zone on the 12.42 mile course. It was a victory well deserved.

 

Above, Pikes Peak conquerer Romain Dumas, on perhaps the best days of his racing life, hopped a ride down the mountain on a hillclimb classic. Below: Gone in a blink, Dumas and the VW start their record run up the mountain.

 

 

Dumas has been dogged in his determination to take the top step and claim an overall record that will require some years and tens of millions of dollars to eclipse. For the last six years he has spent all but one June shuttling back and forth between practices and qualifying for Le Mans and Pikes Peak. While he was driving factory prepared cars for the 24-hour French classic, he ran his own team in the Race to the Clouds, carefully collecting data while waiting for just the right factory effort to materialize. This year it did.

 

When VW announced their 2018 Pikes Peak effort, it claimed that they and Dumas would be going after Rhys Millen’s EV record of 8:57.118. They also claimed they would do it with a car 1000 pounds lighter and with nearly 900 fewer horsepower. No one believed either claim. Dumas has won overall several times on the mountain, but he’s made no secret of his burning desire to set a record. Given the Frenchman’s competitive spirit, everyone figured he knew something that wasn’t being said. And while the I.D. R could very well be as light as they say it is (2,400 pounds), some people were saying it probably has 640hp on each end. Then there was the fact that VW had flown more than 100 journalists from around the world to attend the event. All for an EV record?

 

 

Unofficial timing during practice and private testing had the I.D. R running several seconds below Loeb’s segment times all through the month of June. But testing counts for nothing and Pikes Peak has a way of humbling the high and mighty. In 2013 Dumas made it around one corner before his car stopped with no power. Could it happen again? No.

 

All EVs are required to run with sirens on Pikes Peak to alert spectators, officials and wildlife that something is coming. Most fans find them obnoxious because historically they’ve been cutesy, cartoon versions of European ambulances.

 

No so the VW. After the VW army of technicians pushed the car to the start, Dumas sat alone, the car emitting a pained, menacing wail, as if it were a weapon arming itself. Then…the car was around the corner and out of sight.

 

 

It’s hard to put in words how fast it accelerated, but many photographers missed the shot of it leaving. Its speed was dumfounding. Everyone who did catch it wondered if Dumas could keep the car on the road for the entire 12.4 twisty and bumpy miles. Sooner than anyone expected, radio reports came in and cheers were heard up and down the mountain. 7:57, the first sub eight-minute time. Dumas had done it.

 

He swears he’ll be back and no one doubts him. He seems to really love the race. But everyone doubts that VW will spend millions of dollars to break its own record. So what will Dumas do? Perhaps he wants to break the Time Attack record he so narrowly missed in 2012?

 

 

And, speaking of Time Attack records, Pikes Peak second-year man David Donohue set a new TA I record in a normally aspirated Porsche GT3 R sponsored by Porsche of Colorado Springs in remarkable display of grit, determination, and, especially, coursework of the academic kind. When Donohue raced as a rookie in 2017, everyone took notice of his approach as he drove the course repeatedly in his rental car, studied videos, practiced on simulators, and poured over data, practically living in the shop and working hand-in-hand with the team’s mechanics to perfect his car. His method in 2018 was no different and it paid off with a time of 9:37.152, handily beating race veteran Clint Vahsholtz driving a Flying Lizard entered McLaren 12C by 15 seconds.

 

Clint Vahsholtz corners in his Flying Lizard McLaren 12C. Below: Travis Pastrana won the inaugural Cayman GT4 Clubsport Class run.

 

 

In the new for 2018 Cayman GT4 Clubsport class, internet sensation Travis Pastrana took first honors, beating IndyCar regular J.R. Hildebrand by five seconds-and-change with a time of 10:33.897, with Mike Skeen taking the final place on the podium. While VW had wagered huge amounts of resources on an overall win, Porsche Motorsport North America took a careful, grassroots approach to Pikes Peak for 2018, preferring to back a program in which several pro and amateur drivers achieved the full Pikes Peak experience at a relatively inexpensive rate. Not just an arrive-and-drive kind of deal, PMNA did considerable legwork leading up to the race to make every team and driver feel as welcome as possible to Pikes Peak and Colorado Springs by helping with hotel bookings, team dinners, fan events, and filming the whole week for an upcoming Porsche production.

 

Above: Driver J.R. Hildebrand, in the GT4, gets last-minute tutoring from David Donohue. Below: Many-time Pikes Peak victor Jeff Zwart had a new role for 2018 with the GT4 class, helping, coaching, and debriefing drivers and teams. At right, Dr. Daniel Armbruster, Porsche Motorsports North America’s new president (as of 1 September 2018,) enjoys Zwart’s wisdom.

 

 

If you’re wondering why you haven’t yet read Jeff Zwart’s name in a Pikes Peak article, it’s because he was hugely instrumental in getting the GT4 class established, providing help to the teams, and doing daily coaching and debriefing sessions with each of the drivers. The event was deemed a success by all involved and PMNA seems eager to continue their involvement with the class in the years ahead. Some competitors were already calling the mountain Porsche Peak.

 

Above: George Hess rounds a hairpin as the morning mist lifts on the mountain. Below: Fred Veitch on his way in his venerable 996 Turbo to a personal best climb time.

 

 

Though there’s no official record, 2018 looks to be the busiest year for Porsches on Pikes Peak with as many as 14 running during practice and 13 present for the start. Frenchman Raphael Astier did his first sub 10-minute time with a 9:53.718. And, perennial Porsche runner Fred Veitch ran his best time ever at 11:01.060, leaving him to wonder what it might have taken to clip into the 10-minute club.

 

 

And there were a few notable non-Porsches as well. Former NASCAR crew chief extraordinaire Ray Evernham showed up with a chopped 1937 Ford panel truck nicknamed “The Ghost.” It was as amazing as you would expect from a guy who masterminded dozens of NASCAR victories. Pikes Peak regular Rhys Millen came to set a new record for SUV’s with a green monster of a Bentley that had people joking all week about whether his kids were attending school on the summit and if the child-seats were attached properly, but it was alarmingly fast. And, to finish out for our Porsche fans, Jacky Ickx’s daughter Vanina, raced a very cool looking Gillet Vertigo, comporting herself well, while often flashing that famous Ickx family smile.

 

Above Vanina Ickx pulls away from friends before the start of her run up the mountain. Below: Travis Pastrana autographs a poster for a future competitor.

 

 

All in all it was a great year on Porsche Peak, er…Pikes Peak.

 


 

Editor’s note: Writer Cridland recommended two current internet videos worth watching for a sense of the impact of the VW I.D. R as well as its motor whine, siren howl, and astonishing speed. The Redbull presentation will give you background and some interesting interviews.

https://www.redbull.com/ca-en/videos/pikes-peak-hillclimb-2018-vw-break-record

 

The youtube video is a more vibrant rendering of the car’s speed, sounds, and the impression it makes on spectators. You’ll hear a number of “Holy Shit! comments as it shoots past. And at the end, one even more emphatic.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kAJaGAMWjHM

 

What also is visually interesting is the visual effect of the VW’s aerodynamic-downforce tunnels under the car as they literally vacuum the road surface. Enjoy.   RL

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