Pikes Peak, the 12 mile stretch of road that snakes its way from roughly 8000 feet all the way up to 14,110 feet was the setting for the 91st Pikes Peak Challenge. This year through the early morning mist, spectators were woken early by the sounds of both combustion engines and even a few sirens for the electric vehicles as they started up in preparation for roaring through over 150 twisty turns on their way to the top.
This year there was a lot of extra buzz about this event. Not only was it the 2nd year the road has been fully paved, which meant faster times but Peugeot have re-entered the competition with one of the most gifted driver this planet, Sébastien Loeb. This year we had a chance to send one of our new contributors Jamie Harbour out to Colorado and this is his recap on what was truly considered one of the greatest racers Pikes Peak had ever seen.
I have always had a fascination with this race. I have watched it on TV most years, even when it was played at absurd times on New Zealand TV. The Sony Playstation game Gran Turismo 2 gave us Monster Tajimas Pikes Peak Escudo and for many the closest we were ever going to get to this hallowed place.
I consider myself a pretty adaptable person with many years of hiking experience (tramping in NZ, otherwise known as Lord of the Rings county) and I am fairly fit, but at this kind of altitude no one can truly be “ready” for the duress it puts your body under. It is humorous looking back on how my brain worked through a few of the challenges my body faced over the 4 days I was there. Running short of breath after a short walk and your brain convincing you that you’re an idiot and haven’t been taking any breaths for minutes on end. Picking a vantage point and your brain trying to talk you out of walking to it. I guess you have to experience it for yourself.
Back to the event, the morning practice in my opinion are much more enjoyable than the actual race. You get to see your favorite cars come past a few times, and only the ”true” fans are up the mountain, yes the birds are yet to make an appearance. Practice starts at 5am, which meant leaving my nice soft bed at the hotel in Colorado Springs at around 2am to be sure to get up the mountain before they close off the road.
You can also get up close and personal with the drivers and cars on these early mornings, to get a sneak of what an engine bay looks like, or finding out how the drivers are coping with the race.
The diversity of vehicles in the Time attack, and unlimited classes was amazing this year. We were spoiled, two RS200s, a Mini Clubman, a handful of Mitsubishi EVOs and good turnout of Scion FR-S’s/Subaru BR-Zs all made for great watching.
For Race Day, Andrew Pascarella accompanied me from Raced in Anger as we were media we were allowed access to the mountain at 2am an hour earlier than general admission. This meant leaving the Hotel just after 1am to get to the “Devil’s Playground” which was our parking area for Race Day.
After a quick shut eye Andrew and I went for a stroll down to the edge of the world to get photos of the sunrise. Sunrise was around 5:30 so we still had over 3 hours till the racing started. So it was back to the car for another nap. That being said “tried” to have another nap was the main focus as it was virtually impossible with the noise from the early morning revellers “tailgating”, something else you wouldn’t expect at over 8,000ft.
Unfortunately as time moved on it we had to grab our gear and then made our way down the mountain to the “W”’s, this was an area where we could see a decent amount of road and would provide ample opportunity to catch the cars out on track. We had considered going up the mountain from Devils playground, but the wind chill factor played pretty heavily in this decision, and we thought the front side of the mountain would offer us more protection. The first hairpin we set up at was exposed, and the gusting freezing wind took a toll on us. Yes this is the life of the media, it was quite simply put, miserable…
After a few of the bikes passed we decided we couldn’t handle the cold and wind any longer so decided to drop down the mountain a few hairpins lower. This was a great choice, as it put us out of the wind. This is how Pikes Peak is, the altitude is so taxing on your body that you potentially miss the greatest spots on the mountain because of what it physically takes to get to them.
Finally after what seemed like eternity Loeb left the start line. I was worried the impending black clouds were going to ruin his chances. The Peugeot team had weather techs scattered up the mountain relaying information on road temperatures, wind speeds, and air temperatures back down to the start to help them decide which tyres to go with.
Sébastien Loeb’s Peugeot is nothing short of spectacular. The ground effect you get from the massive aero package on the car is something to behold. The first time it passed me earlier in the week it actually took me by surprise and knocked me off balance.
I couldn’t really describe watching this machine come up the mountain and past me as my vocabulary isn’t vast enough for all the superlatives that could be used. In short “amazing and awe inspiring” should cover it.
My fellow New Zealander Rhys Millen was always going to have a tough task, but he were charging all the same. Hopefully Team Millen can find some more time in their Hyundai and can drop lower into the 9’s. The Millen family are almost as well known on the mountain as the Unser family which is unbelievable considering they are from little old New Zealand some 7000+ miles away. They may be settled now in California, but they will ALWAYS be Kiwis!
Of all the motorsport events I shoot, this is easily the toughest. The altitude and accompanying headaches (sometimes more of a migraine) along with varying weather conditions make it extremely taxing on the body. Then throw in the fact that on race day when everything is on the line these guys only climb the hill once. Which means for me it makes getting “the shot” more than just pressing the shutter button. Multiple bodies equipped with varying focal length lenses is a must to get a variety of shots. This does test you in a lot of ways from coordination, to equipment management. However all that being said it is beyond rewarding though from a photographers perspective. The fruits of all the duress that you put your body through are all worth it in the end. It is an event that will be a permanent fixture on my calendar for years to come.
Whether Peugeot will return next year to defend their title is yet to be seen. It would be a shame to put the T16 car into a museum piece, so we should all cross our fingers that we will get to witness it once again. I will be there. I promise!
The countdown to next year has already started and it can’t come soon enough, and even with all the challenges associated with shooting an event like this the rewards were high.
Bring on 2014.