The company I kept on my journey to the 97th running of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb consisted entirely of avid automotive enthusiasts, but even if I surrounded myself with friends who couldn’t tell a cylinder head from a spark plug the experience would not have been any less magical.
Coinciding with my first-ever trip to Colorado, my first-ever Race to the Clouds experience left me mesmerized on multiple fronts. From the beautiful scenery, to the tantalizing vehicles, to the race itself, the event was one to remember.
My Pikes Peak adventure began several days before the start of the race and about 4,000 feet below its finish line at a nearby home my friends and I rented for the event. Aptly named The Fortress at Pikes Peak, the property sits about 10,000 feet above sea level and can be accessed only via a mile-long dirt road with its own share of twists and turns. This secluded fortress was the perfect location to take in the view of Pikes Peak, as well as the surrounding hills and mountains.
Soon after arriving the seven of us quickly set out to conquer the Peak ourselves, piling back into our Dodge Caravan and setting off for Pikes Peak Highway. The hour-long drive did not disappoint—wherever we went, the scenery was simply incredible.
Eventually we arrived at the base of the Pikes Peak Highway entrance. When pulling up to the gate, we were disappointed to learn that motorists were barred from driving to the peak due to ongoing construction of the new Summit House. Fortunately, even when doing 35 mph in a shuttle bus, the drive to the top was exhilarating—and the pinnacle was well worth it.
The high elevation, combined with colder temperatures, wind, and beautiful views will leave you without words. Climbing the mountain also gives you the opportunity to scope out various places to view the race. I recommend the experience to anyone attending the Pikes Peak race, especially those who want to get a feel for the road and visualize each corner.
The vehicles featured at this year’s hill climb were another highlight, comprising a variety of unique builds and near-silent electric cars that caught me off guard more than once due to a lack of engine roar or exhaust note. It was difficult to pick favorites, but the backstories behind the BBi Autosport Porsche 911 and Palatov Motorsport D2EV and the technology used to power each vehicle helped them stand out from the rest.
Hoonigan’s YouTube channel followed the build of the BBi Porsche 911, which began as a shell with less than 90 days remaining before the Hill Climb. Not only was the twin-turbo, 900-hp Porsche completed on time, but it also set a new Pikes Peak record for its class by crossing the finish line with a time of 9:23.
The Palatov D2EV build is a very intriguing vehicle that I first spotted at the Fan Fest event prior to the race. The shell, built by Palatov Motorsports out of Portland, OR, was displayed separate from the frame to give passers-by a view of the simple and clean all-electric rear engine.
The engine itself was in conjunction with Borg Warner, which supplied the motors, inverters, and various other system integrations. With Greg Tracy, a professional stunt driver for the Fast and Furious and Bourne films behind the wheel, the car finished with a time of 9:55.
Pikes Peak Travel Tips
For those considering making the trek to Pikes Peak, there are a couple things I have learned that might help you get the most from your experience. Here are a few suggestions:
1. Leave earlier than you think you should. Gates open at 2:30 a.m. We arrived at 3 a.m. expecting to claim a spot near Devil’s Playground or Glen Cove. Nope. Both locations already were packed by the time we made it through the stop-and-go traffic.
2. Bring clothing for literally any type of weather. The morning of the race started out bright and sunny with temperatures in the mid-70s, but by the afternoon had shifted to heavy rain and hail. In fact, this year was the third year in a row that attendees have encountered inclement weather.
3. Wear boots. You won’t be hiking up the peak itself, but there are steep inclines and rough terrain near the various viewing areas.
4. Bring more food than you think you will need. It could be my Italian heritage talking, but two sandwiches per person and our modest snack stash barely cut it for the 12-plus-hour race.
5. Take the time to check out the Fan Fest that takes place before the race in Colorado Springs. Ten blocks of downtown is barricaded for drivers, vendors, and fans, giving you up-close-and-personal access to the drivers and race teams prior to the race. This fun and free event allowed me to nerd out by meeting some drivers and seeing some of the cars.
6. Finally, take the time to experience the race. The amount of cameras and phones that were capturing every car was overwhelming. Cars and motorcycles are passing by at over 100 mph, and if you blink, they will be gone. Don’t miss the experience that lies beyond the screen.
In summary, the experience of Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is an event has something for everyone—not just automotive enthusiasts. You don’t need to be a motorsports fan to attend the event. Nevertheless, if you go, you might just become one.