Near Miss

Le Mans GT winner and factory driver Romain Dumas decided it might be fun to take a racer's holiday and trt something a little different — on Pikes Peak,

January 18, 2013
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Ever since 1916, when Ray Lentz struggled to Pikes Peak’s oxygen-starved summit in his aero-engined Romano Demon, the 14,110-foot granite monolith has been a seductive goal for racers of all types and kinds, everywhere.

Ironically, the annual Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is probably better known in Europe, New Zealand, and Japan than it is in America. That’s because there is no similar test of car and driver anywhere else on earth. Some of the mountain’s most dedicated challengers and record holders hail from faraway places, and Porsche factory driver Romain Dumas is no different.

Curious about the possibility of taking one of his own team’s rally cars to one of America’s highest mountains, he’d been questioning Porsche’s resident Pikes Peak expert Jeff Zwart about “the hill” since he’d first learned about it and discovered that the famed automotive cinematographer and amateur racer had been racing on the mountain for 13 years, driving nine different Porsches to seven class wins.

Although Pikes Peak is a highly popular tourist destination, visited annually by millions, by courtesy of the City of Colorado Springs and the park service, the road to the summit is used just once a year for the historic hillclimb.Entrants are allowed but one run on race day; make just a single mistake, and you wait a full year for another chance.

Weather conditions at the summit are fickle at best and subject to extremes of temperature,moisture, and wind velocity, so it can take years of trying to match favorable conditions at the start line with those at the top to make a successful run. Factor in this year’s new, fully paved road to the top,which previously was a relatively safe, (slower and more spectacular) beautifully groomed, decomposed granite gravel surface, and the hillclimb has become much faster,more complicated to plan for, and certainly more dangerous.

Since Porsche’s secret racing facilities in Weissach are currently focused primarily on development of its new LMP1-class racer and making sure its numerous, partially supported race teams in various series around the world are properly prepared, there’s precious little time to devote to a singular event as chancy as Pikes Peak.

Other manufacturers, after spending hundreds of thousands, even millions, of dollars, euros, pounds, yen, or whatever currency was required to prepare for the race, have also discovered, to their chagrin, how uncooperative and obstinate the mountain’s weather can be — and decided never to return.

The same weather/financial uncertainty that makes it too risky for carefully planned, time-sensitive marketing campaigns has actually made the Peak an ideal setting for dedicated privateer teams and drivers willing to risk the capricious conditions year after year to become King of the Mountain.

Like Bonneville or even the Indy 500, the unique lure of winning overall at Pikes Peak has become so respected among racers that its special, hardy fans return year after year to experience the unpredictable drama that can be expected to occur in each edition. This year was no different.

Also from Issue 208

  • 2013 Porsche Carrera C4
  • Porsche technician's project SC
  • The 356 That Keeps on Giving
  • Porsches for Less Than $15,000
  • Plug In and Play
  • Preview: 2013 Cayman
  • Under the Radar: Non-U.S. 1968 911S
  • The Townes Speedster
  • Pre-purchase Inpsection, Pt. III
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