Over a hundred years ago, the mining entrepreneur of a wealthy Philadelphia family set his sights on Colorado Springs. He start building in a luxury, European-inspired hotel in 1916, but he decided he needed an attraction to draw tourists to the area. Setting his sights on a nearby carriage road, winding up a neighboring mountain, he built it into a motorway suitable for motor vehicles. Then he organized a race.
It was the first (yet continuous) Pikes Peak National climb, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that the plot story would lead to an uninteresting, driverless motorsport event. Wealthy men, wanting to cash in on tourists, devised a race that now has only one model for the Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsports. This is certainly a celebration of champagne and caviar, accessible only to those with a Rolex on their wrist and Pilotis on their feet.
If you think so, you are wrong.
Full disclosure: Acura took me to Colorado Springs for the 100th run of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. They paid for my airfare (including another, last minute after a sudden cancellation), accommodation, food and oxygen tanks. They also gave me the keys to the 2023 Integra, and took me up the mountain in it with a factory driver riding a shotgun.
Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is the largest site in the world motorsport events. Certainly, manufacturers and racing teams dumping silly money is invested in building cars to climb hills, but those high-value constructions run parallel to the new Mustangs that come out of the box and the Subarus in racing gear. Dedicated single-seat chassis can holds the mountain’s overall record, but the racing divisions of the event still allow riders to compete multiple times against cars they have a real chance of beating. It’s balanced, that way.
With half the fare to NASCAR at The Glen, you can camp at the finish line of Pikes Peak or wander the lawns at the start. Either way, or from anywhere in between, you’ll find one of the most diverse groups of race cars ever sharing a track. Diesel trucks, dune carts, new Porsche showrooms and full-size E36es are all welcome.
However, the shoal is where Pikes Peak really feels like a junior event. No amount of money poured into the event will stop Larry Chen from rolling out snooper stickers or give you more time to dodge Dai Yoshihara as he winds through the crowd with the determination of a born New Yorker and hybridization. People you know on YouTube? They are here. They are two feet away from you.
The cars were even closer. The audience was blocked from the staging area, right behind the green flag, but the area was barely A car. To get close to the track, each contestant still drove through the gawking crowd. There is no separation between competitors and audiences, and why is there? We are all equal as enthusiasts.
Each driver can bring a few crew members into that staging area, to make sure the vehicle is prepped and ready for the twisty road ahead. However, if you don’t have enough crew members to fill out the list, why not bring Shaggy hair boy right up the green flag? I’ve seen more than one, documenting their Instagram content without being stymied by a dull media shirt.
The course itself is grueling, miles of almost identical twists and turns that can confuse even experienced drivers. A corner that everyone knows, Angle Evo? It’s actually a lot tighter than you can see in any GoPro footage, and it comes out at the end of the replays – count the turns, make sure you get it right, otherwise you will go astray.
That assumes, of course, that you can even understand corners. At over 9,000 feet to start and over 14,000 at the end, Pikes Peak’s weather is extreme and unpredictable. This year, the dense fog and cold wind made the field less forgiving of mistakes, causing an opponent to have to rolled his wheelchair completely off the course.
He landed on his wheel, and kept going. If you had a chance to drive Pikes Peak, would you?
For many people, myself included, witnessing Pikes Peak firsthand is a real list entry. This is one of the most historic races in the United States, and one that plays out so differently from any other that it’s almost a completely unique form of motorsport. Aero, suspension, tires, wheels, nothing from other racing series works perfect here. Everything needs to be adjusted for the Race to come Clouds.
If you missed the 100th run of the race, get a ticket for the 101st leg. Wake up sleep early Sunday morning, and do Make your way up the hill to a spectator location. The people around you will do the same – everyone, from the audience to the captain, is equal in enthusiasm and lack of sleep.
See you again next year.