Near Miss

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Romain Dumas had expectations of doing little more than using this first attempt on the Peak as a lark, a fun learning experience, perhaps to seriously challenge sometime in the future when other racing commitments didn’t interfere. In addition to his love of pavement, Dumas also loves to rally race on different surfaces and believed that his experience off-road might offer some advantage.

“I also thought it might be fun to take my girlfriend to America for the week!”he admitted with a smile. “Jeff Zwart offered to let me use his tire warmers and introduce me to the local Porsche dealer so we would have a place to work. Porsche Motorsport said they’d give me all the data they acquired with Jeff in previous years, so I felt comfortable in making plans.

“We prepared one of my GT3 RS rally cars entirely in Ales, France,where my rally team is based,” continues Dumas. “There were no major modifications to our car. We fabricated some air intakes on the rear quarters to get some more air to the engine, some brake ducts for the front, and a bigger splitter and dive planes on the nose for the thinner air at altitude. It might have been smart to run a turbocharger, like Jeff did last year in his GT2 RS, but this was simply an exploratory adventure, something like any street-driven Porsche privateer entrant might do — so I went with what we were familiar with.”

The local conditions were more radical than expected.Major forest fires just north of Colorado Springs shut down the local highways leading to the mountain and threatened to scorch Pikes Peak. Dumas’ team arrived on time, but the event was postponed indefinitely based on weather and the huge fire’s indecisive spread. Dumas’ mechanics were forced to wait with no certainty as to when they might have to return to France without even getting on the mountain.

The race was eventually rescheduled five weeks later than originally planned.With no date conflicts, Dumas rearranged his flights and arrived on Monday, the evening before the first practice. Since the park opens to the public at 9:00 in the morning and has to be completed before the public enters, practice begins at daybreak. Everyone has to be on the mountain ready to run when the sun breaks the horizon somewhere east of the Colorado border. Dawn on the mountain is worth the trip.

“That meant we had to be up at three every morning for practice; my girlfriend didn’t think much of that,” laughed Dumas. “It’s also very, very cold up there, so we were not fully prepared for the icy conditions when we had to practice on top. The cold temperatures during practice were a serious consideration because of limited traction.We had to remember that, on race day, all that cold-tire temperature data was useless, as we would start much later in the day.”

As this was the first year the road to the summit was entirely paved, the choice of tires and compounds, along with special hand-cut sipes,was less critical than in previous years but still important. Dumas selected Michelin Cups, knowing they’d be tough and predictable even if not quite perfect. The change to full pavement had created, in effect, an entirely new and different type of event. Even Dumas’ main competition,Rhys Millen in his well-developed Hyundai Genesis drift car, was testing different chassis setups to find the ideal. Previous overall record-holder Rod Millen, Rhys’ dad, had used this same car last year to set a new Time Attack class record in his secret attempt to defeat his friend Jeff Zwart’s 997 GT3 RS.

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