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100th Pikes Peak Hill Climb brings bad weather, heartbreak


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Hill climb? Please. While Europeans spent the weekend driving up a nobleman’s driveway at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, we in ‘Murica got down and dirty with the 100th running up Pikes Peak. In a reversal of stereotypes, it is we who have understated. The “hill” climb ascends one of the tallest peaks in the Rockies, to a finish line that’s 14,115 feet above sea level. To get there, it takes 156 turns over 12.42 miles, some of which just look like paved sky, because they have have no guardrails between the asphalt’s edge and sheer dropoffs.

In reality, the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is even older than 100 years. The first event took place in 1916, but in 1917-19 and 1942-45, the so-called Race to the Clouds was put on hiatus due to a couple of world wars. This year’s event was marked by damp weather that dashed the hopes of several teams’ efforts to break new records.

David Donner’s Porsche 911 Turbo S Lightweight Package, for example, was widely expected to reclaim the production car record this year. Donner is a three-time PPIHC champ, and set the 2014 production car record in a 991-generation Turbo S.  A Bentley Continental GT piloted by Rhys Millen beat it in 2019, so Porsche was keen on taking it back. Donner broke the production qualifying time earlier in the week, but even the seasoned pro couldn’t put his skills to tarmac due to moisture-laden surfaces and low-visibility from thick fog on race day. The result was 10:34.053, over 15 seconds slower than Millen’s 10:18.488, still good enough to land the class’s top spot and second overall.

Acura arrived in Colorado to conduct its much-touted motorsports debut of the 2023 Integra. While the entry-level sports sedan, equipped with a stock engine but modified with a slew of HPD goodies, came in ninth in the production class, Acura didn’t go home emptyhanded. A 2022 NSX Type S driven by Nick Robinson took the category’s third spot. Taking second was Daijiro Yoshihara with a Tesla Model S. In recent years, electric cars have become a force to be reckoned with, especially since they are immune to high altitudes that negatively impact internal combustion cars.

Poor conditions sent newcomer Levi Shirley’s Ultra 4 buggy off course. Fortunately, it was near the lower sections, where there’s still a significant amount of runoff past the pavement’s end. Amazingly, Shirley landed wheels down in the video above, and simply continued driving through the pea soup haze.

Another Porsche disappointment came from Ken Block’s much discussed, custom, 1,400-horsepower 911. Unfortunately, a blown engine caused the 2,200-pound AWD machine to miss qualifying.

The UK’s Robin Shute took top honors overall with his Honda-powered TSC Wolf in the unlimited class. But to give a sense of how much weather affected the proceedings, his 10:09.525 time was almost a full minute slower than his 2019-winning time of 9:12.476. 

Last but not least, a nostalgia-fueled entrant came in the form of Rod Millen’s Toyota Tacoma. The legendary machine won the PPIHC in 1998 and 1999, and the 750-horsepower “truck” was brought out of retirement to race again. This year, it clocked a 11:06.152, almost a minute off its 1999-winning 10:11.15 time (which took place before the course was fully paved). 

In most races, drivers face off against each other. But at Pikes Peak, the competition is only the mountain, and there is a saying that goes, “The mountain decides.” This year, it decided to rain on the parades of record challenging hopefuls. 

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