The Road To Pikes Peak: The Race to the Clouds

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It’s an incredibly difficult task to attempt to describe the intensity of emotion on race day at Pikes Peak, let alone whittle down the 4,000+ images taken at the starting line to just a handful to support those words.

The mountain has gravity and a power that can be felt as soon as you reach Colorado Springs. Rising up from behind the dark green shadows of the range, the monolithic summit is visible as a crest of pink and red rock that comprises the upper section stands tall and imposing over the surrounding landscape. Competitors and Colorado residents alike speak as if the mountain is a living, breathing, temperamental deity that chooses who it will allow to reach its summit. Disrespect the mountain, and surely you will find yourself in a precarious situation.

Humans have always had an innate urge to test their ability to conquer the natural world, and have a particular fascination with conquering these incredibly tall peaks. It’s hard to believe that for over 100 years, intrepid humans have found ways to reach the 14,115-foot tall summit, whether it be on foot, bike, or of course- motor vehicles.

Now in its 99th running, the Pikes Peak International Hillclimb is still as harrowing as ever as the speeds that vehicles are able to reach on the paved surface climb with every passing year. The paved highway, however, only increases the danger as the permafrost and ever-changing weather conditions create massive frost heaves and depressions that unsettle the balance of the speeding cars, sometimes catching the drivers off guard and sending them toward the many obstacles or dropoffs that lie at the edges of the road. Early mornings mean both the tires and road surface are cold and make it incredibly difficult to get heat into the tires, even after the first few practice runs. As the altitude climbs, the pressures in the tires rise as atmospheric pressure decreases, only compounding the conundrum of setting an optimal tire pressure. The ever-present fine dust of decomposed granite guarantees the likelihood of traction issues, and the presence of wildlife only increases the stakes of the already complex course.

Throughout the entire month of testing sessions, the weather had been unseasonably warm and pleasant. Of course, as has been in years past, the mountain threw a curveball on race week. Conditions rapidly declined, and freezing rain on Thursday tested the drivers’ car control in wet conditions. Conditions worsened on Saturday evening and the cloud cover dropped over 6″ of snow above Devil’s playground and ultimately led to treacherous and icy road conditions on race day. The official decision was to shorten the course to place the finish line at the 16-mile mark, eliminating the top section altogether. The upper section throughout practice was Cam’s strongest sector, so naturally, we were disappointed and wondered how it may affect the outcome of the race.

It’s always an exciting and pensive moment when the competitors stage at the starting line, and the time before the starter waves the green flag seems to drag on for minutes as the tension builds. What makes the Pikes Peak Hillclimb such an incredible event is the genuine camaraderie of the competitors and the feeling of a true “one team” atmosphere. Every competitor and team member wants to see each competitor get to the finish line safely and perform their best.

For Cam, the PPIHC officials handed the flag to Mr. Ingram to wave and send his son up the mountain for his first race. Roughly 15 of our team was in attendance, along with a number of friends- new and old- to watch and cheer Cam on as he ran up the hill.

Each of us watched the timing screen closely as the times for each sector came up with a mix of relief and anxiety. Cheers erupted when he crossed the finish line, as just getting up the mountain safely was a victory. Not only did he shave off over 5 seconds in the lower section- the section where Cam admitted to being the slowest in throughout practice- but he also maintained a second place in class as the other three competitors made their way up the mountain. We celebrated at the start while Cam and the other competitors had their own celebration on the snowy hillside of the finish line. Romain Dumas ran to Cam, hugged him, and picked him up once Cam had completed his run and got out of the GT4. Where else but Pikes Peak would a Le Mans champion celebrate with a rookie competitor who had just completed his first-ever race?

This was a tremendous accomplishment for our team, and it would not be possible without their hard work and sacrifice to make it a reality. We’d like to give our heartfelt thanks to everyone at the Pikes Peak Hillclimb- officials, volunteers, and competitors alike- for their hard work to put on this historic event year after year and to our sponsors Peter Millar, Chopard, and BASF for their support on this journey. We’d also like to especially thank Fred Veitch for his hospitality, Dave Petitti, and Jeff Zwart for his time and patience as a coach, and to our friends and fans who have supported us and wished us well throughout training, testing, and race day.

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