Photos by Sean Cridland
The buildup to each year’s Pikes Peak Hill Climb offers some intriguing questions about performance, weather, road surface, and who will offer a car/driver combination that might challenge Sebastian Loeb’s now five-year old record time of 8:13.878. Thinking of the race from only the record-challenging aspect, one prospect comes to mind, the electric powered VW I.D. R Pikes Peak special driven by three-time overall winner Romain Dumas. With a couple of months of testing in France under their belt, the team has recently made its first preliminary private tests on America’s Mountain. Though it’s suffered a few teething issues, all reports say the car is fast and the Volkswagen factory is fully committed to seeing the project through to completion. Only time will tell whether or not it has the chops to challenge Loeb’s Peugeot-powered record.
On a more interesting note for Porsche fans, there are a few fronts to watch. David Donohue, who narrowly missed winning the Time Attack I class last year, returns in a brand-new GT3 R along with George Hess and Akio Kobayashi in GT3s, and 2014 Time Attack 2 winner Fred Veitch in his venerable, but increasingly fast 2001 996 Turbo. It’s looking very much like another Porsche year in the class, except for two entries with great potential. Veteran Clint Vahsholtz, whose family has dozens of class victories in cars they’ve built in their own shop, has signed on to drive a factory-backed McLaren 12C, and James Robinson, who’s now into his third year on the mountain with a well-developed Acura NSX has shown great potential.
In the Pikes Peak Open class Porsche competitor veteran Robert Prilika is looking to back up his 2017 Time Attack II victory in a 2014 GT3 Cup. He’ll be challenged by Dumas protégé Raphael Astier in a 2007 GT3 prepared by Dumas shop and another Dumas entry for Frenchwoman Laure Many, who returns this year hoping she fares better against the infamous Pikes Peak weather. Prilika, Astier, and Many will be facing very stiff competition from Peter Cunningham in a 2018 Acura TLX GT. Cunningham was 2017 Open class winner and also finished second overall with a very fast time of 9:33.797…in his rookie year.
Perhaps the most interesting class of all could be a brand new single-manufacturer class of Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsports, with some great drivers racing against each other for the honor of showing who is the best driver in a field of equal cars. The GT4 Clubsport is no stranger to Pikes Peak. Fred Veitch raced one in 2016 with reasonably good results, all things considered. But, because the Clubsport is designed to race in PCA Club Racing and the Pirelli Trophy series, its prep-level should ordinarily put the car into the Time Attack I class where it is out-powered by as much as 300 horsepower. Though the car is well known for its well-balanced handling, power is power, especially in a hill climb of this magnitude.
Porsche Motorsports North America, with guidance from 8-time Peak-winner Jeff Zwart, heard the call and worked for the past two years with the PPIHC Competition Committee and Yokohama tires to create the Clubsport GT4 class, where the entering drivers will only race against each other. The class is limited to eight entries and this has brought out an interesting field of competitors including some with deep histories on the mountain, but little in a Cayman, and some with some impressive Cayman racing palmarès, but no history on Pikes Peak. Zwart will be on hand throughout testing and practice to coach, guide, and encourage the drivers and their crews.
The eight GT4 Clubsport racers are:
Till Bechtolsheimer: a German-born in Britain, Bechtolsheimer has been racing in FIA historic racing and IMSA Weathertech racing, placing fourth in class standings during 2017, his first full season with CJ Wilson Racing.
CJ Wilson: Wilson is best known as a star pitcher for the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels with a win-loss record of 94-70 and a 3.74 earned-run average. Since his last MLB appearance he’s dedicated himself to auto racing on the IMSA Weathertech circuit in an Acura NSX GT3.
Thomas Collingwood: Collingwood got his feet wet in PCA HPDE, then a foray into open-road racing in the Targa Newfoundland before joining the Cayman GT4 Clubsport Trophy East Series in 2016 and making a very strong impression with several class wins and podiums.
Nichalas Kwan: Kwan is a Vancouver-based racer and automotive enthusiast who is looking forward to his first Pikes Peak challenge.
Alexander Marmureanu: Dr. Marmureanu is a Los Angles based surgeon and experienced club racer with several class wins to his name. This will be his first time on America’s Mountain.
Timothy Pappas: Tim Pappas has been racing in Grand-Am and IMSA series competition since 2001 and has great experience on some of the best tracks in America, though this will be his first time challenging the 156 corners of Pikes Peak.
Travis Pastrana: Pastrana is a force of nature, with successes in supercross, motocross, freestyle motocross, X-Games, and rally racing. He’s also competed for Roush Fenway Racing in NASCAR and is one of the most famous stunt-riders/drivers in the world. He’s raced on Pikes Peak before and has been a record setting overall winner at the Mt. Washington Hill Climb. He could be the class-win favorite.
Mike Skeen: Skeen has a long list of strong performances at tracks such as Daytona, Monza, Silverstone, Sebring…and Pikes Peak. If anyone will pose a strong challenge to Pastrana, it would most likely be Skeen.
With a dedicated group of Porsche enthusiasts and professional racers running a competition proven car like the Cayman GT4 Clubsport, his class will no doubt showcase some great racing and further bolster the history of Porsche in international hill climb racing and, especially, in the world’s most famous hill climb of all. See you on the mountain, June 24th!