Almost anyone who’s heard of Pikes Peak pictures an open-wheel car in a lurid slide with huge rooster-tails of dirt reaching into the sky…or they imagine Sebastian Loeb’s wickedly fast Peugeot from 2013. Nearly everyone has seen the breath-robbing video of Jeremy Foley catching big air in the 2012 race when he missed a corner just before the Devil’s Playground, plummeting several hundred feet before landing in a very steep boulder field. Yet hardly anyone knows that the race is a week-long affair, with practice days, festivals, and on its first day: Tech Inspection, held this year on Monday, June 22.
While the dirt, lurid slides, and rooster-tails are gone, the racers are challenged by a course demanding 10/10ths driving, watch-like precision, and no room for error. It’s more dangerous than ever before. Some of the modern cars are hitting speeds in excess of 150mph on a road with only trees, boulders and blue sky for runoff areas. Wintertime conditions come and go all year long at the upper altitudes, meaning frost heaves, potholes, and uneven patches, just like we all drive on. There is no racetrack like it anywhere in the world.
Several interesting cars were on hand this year. Some of them are Porsches and some of them hoping to repeat Porsche’s success in recent years. Perennial favorite Jeff Zwart was back this year with the same GT3/2 he’s raced with moderate success the last couple years. Clearly the class act of the field in Time Attack 1 (a class which allows race-versions of street cars), Zwart has taken an already great racecar in the GT3 and substituted a race-tuned GT2 turbocharged engine and fitted a full-race suspension and brakes. Some claim it delivers around 800hp, though he’s not saying.
Going into the race, Zwart was the favorite, as he has been the last two years. But the last couple years he’s been hampered by weather and a niggling fuel pump issue. This year there was a monster-looking Nissan GTR in full race mode looking menacing in Tech, but its challenge fizzled when it crashed heavily in its first on-mountain practice session.
The race in Time Attack 2 was oddly similar. Former factory Porsche driver and multi-time IMSA champion Randy Pobst entered a well-prepared Time Attack 2 version of the Nissan GTR. TA2 has very stringent rules that allow only minor adjustments to suspension settings and no parts changing in the engine compartment, only software tuning for altitude. Pobst ran against 4-time Pikes Peak winner, and Colorado Springs native, David Donner, who was driving a 2014 Porsche 911 Turbo S. Sporting nearly 600hp, all-wheel-drive, and 4-wheel steering (and retaining its heat/AC and stereo system!), the car seemed a natural.
Worth knowing, Donner has a long history with the mountain. Consider that his dad Bob Donner Jr., won the race three times in the late 50s and early 60s with a Porsche RSK. Donner’s brother Bobby III won it in 1989, too. Though Donner doesn’t have Pobst’s overall race background, he has deep roots and many very fast runs on the mountain that looms in his backyard…he intimately knows the challenges posed by the mountain. Though Zwart’s challenger removed itself from contention early on, Donner and Pobst were remarkably close all through on-mountain testing. Race day promised to be very interesting.
When race day came, “America’s Mountain” revealed its true character. Though all the motorcycle classes made it to the top before weather set in, only about 2/3s of the cars were on top when rain and snow arrived, shutting down the upper portions of the course. Organizers decided that record times set to the top would stand, but that the final results would be taken from times set only on the bottom of the mountain.
It worked out like this: Zwart finally won Time Attack 1, setting a personal best time of 9:46.243 and finishing fourth overall. Donner found himself down on power and set a below-potential, but class-record time of 10:26.896. But he gained the win when rival Pobst lost concentration about 1/3 the way up the mountain and left the course.
There were other Porsches on the mountain too. Californian Justin Wilson (not related to the F1/Indy car driver) raced a beautifully prepared GT3 Cup, finishing 7th in Time Attack 1. Texan Raymund Guerrero, who usually races a Viper on the mountain in TA2, converted to Porsche-power for this year with a 2009 Turbo S and took a solid second to Donner. And local favorite Chris Lennon has returned with his 73 RSR clone to contest the Vintage class against a gaggle of Mustangs and a very fast Cobra. Though out horse-powered during each of the four times he’s run the mountain, he won the class, making it a Porsche sweep of all three classes entered.
Story and photos by Sean Cridland © 2015 All rights reserved.
Road Scholars provided some sponsorship to Jeff Zwart and David Donner for this year’s event.