The Pikes Peak International Hillclimb is the second oldest motorsports event in the Western Hemisphere and is easily among the most challenging and intimidating races in motorsports history. Earlier this year, we competed in a huge milestone in the race’s history: the 100th running of the Hillclimb.
Beginning at the 7th mile of the Pikes Peak Highway, the official course for the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb consists of a narrow, two-lane road that stretches 12.42 miles from 9,390 to 14,115 feet above sea level and winds through 156 turns to the summit. If the infamous Nordschleife at the Nürburgring in Germany was disconnected at the start/finish line and laid out along the side of the mountain, the two courses would have an eerie similarity.
The 12.42-mile stretch consists of hairpin turns, decreasing radius turns, switchbacks, blind corners, and elevation changes. Outside each corner, there are trees, rocks or steep drop-offs, unlike traditional race circuits that have run-off areas, gravel traps, cushioned barriers, and other measures implemented to safely bring cars to a stop. Additionally, any of the turns in the course are deceptively similar in appearance, often leading competitors to mistake the turn they’re approaching and either lose precious seconds or worse- find themselves off the course into the trees or rocks.
Since 2012, the surface of the highway has been paved from start to finish, but the course is no less daunting- frost heaves, dust, decomposed granite, the unpredictable weather conditions, and the mountain’s own microclimates only add to the challenge the competitors face as they sprint to the top of the mountain on their quest for the fastest time. Competitors have only one chance to run the course in its entirety from start to finish on race day. In the preceding week, practice sessions consist of two days each on either the lower, middle or upper sections, depending on the competitor’s class.
We returned to the mountain with the Road Scholars/Peter Millar 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport to compete in the Porsche Pikes Peak Trophy by Yokohama with Cam Ingram behind the wheel, and Jeff Zwart returning to the Time Attack 1 class with the Ingram Collection 935 in its iconic Mobil 1 Pegasus livery.
Cam and Jeff both arrived in Colorado immediately after the conclusion of our European Grand Tour to begin testing at the beginning of the month. For the entire month of June, Cam lived in a small cabin on the base of the mountain- splitting his time every day between handling the operations of the business while studying POV videos of previous racers’ runs up the mountain and driving the road daily to memorize every turn and sightline. Jeff commuted in from his home in Aspen every week to split his time behind the wheel of the 935 while simultaneously coaching the competitors in the Porsche Pikes Peak Trophy by Yokohama class.
As in previous years, the weather was favorable all the way through the month of practice sessions, until the night before race day. Last year, competitors were not able to run all the way to the summit due to ice and snow, instead having to settle for a shortened course that finished at Devil’s Playground. It seemed highly probable that it would be the same scenario once again, but the race director Randy Ruyle, stayed awake through the night at the summit cleaning snow from the roadway to ensure that racers would be able to have a complete run from the starting line to the summit by morning.
Throughout practice, Cam had done an incredible job of improving his times on each and every run. By race day, even in fog so dense that visibility was nearly non-existent, Cam’s dedication to learning every turn had paid off and he put in a bottom-to-top run that was three full minutes ahead of his nearest competitor and reasonably close to his theoretical best time. Jeff approached the line and was delayed while a car had to be towed down to the pits while conditions further deteriorated. By the conclusion of the race, Cam had run the course in 11:22.691 taking first in his class and Jeff had completed his run in 10:58.928 for a second-place in-class finish. Most importantly, all of the racers had gotten through the race safely.