Year 1 we learned that reaching the summit is challenge enough – even more so in a 20 year old car.
Year 2 we learned that sometimes its 40 degrees warmer on race day than practice – air bad, nitrogen good.
Year 3 we learned that if you’re trying to run 30 pounds of boost – sometimes new couplers aren’t good enough.
Year 4 we learned that sometimes even if you run into every problem imaginable during practice, there’s still 12.4 miles for new problems to crop up on race day.
The thing is, despite all the challenges we’ve faced, we’ve managed to make the summit each year. The addiction part of it all comes in because, well, this is racing. As a race car driver, once you reach the summit you start dissecting your run, thinking of those corners where you could’ve carried a bit more speed, or pushed your braking zone just a few feet further. With 156 turns, the chances are 100% that there’s at least one place you made a mistake. It gnaws on you, almost like you’re being taunted, and you just know you HAVE to come back next year to try and improve.
We were hopeful that 2011 being our 5th time to the hill might mean that we were starting to get a handle on things and that after two years of disappointing finishes in the Evo that our third time with a high powered Evo would be the charm. Pikes Peak is constantly evolving and changing, and if you read our practice writeup, you’d know there’s no such thing as cruising through the event when you’ve got a highly modified vehicle.
Taking the lessons learned over the past few years, we’d done the best we could with our budget to come into raceday prepared – and this year we even managed to get some sleep the night before! The AMS Performance 2.3L stroker engine with Manley Performance Billet Crank & Turbo Tuff Rods and Kelford 272 Cams was making great power and the freshly rebuilt Evo VIII Street/Strip ShepTrans was holding up great. With a couple days of practice the AST Suspension and Federal Tires were working well so we were optimistic with our chances. We knew despite getting nipped by a few seconds in qualifying that we had more to give.
After getting situated in our pit space in the woods, we attended the driver’s meeting at 8am. Afterwards I set about making a few final tweaks to the car and Mitch plugged in for one last look at the engine parameters. I got our water sprayer running and with the aid of the new GoPro LCD Backpack we had the three GoPro cameras mounted and aimed in no time. With those minor tasks out of the way, it was time to relax before our anticipated 10-10:30 start time.
Just like 2008, delays were a common occurrence, but this time the big delay was caused by a car spilling oil all over the road up at Bottomless Pit. As the morning wore on, temperatures climbed and we knew there were going to be cars that had worked fine in practice but would have trouble in the warmer weather. By the time we reached the startline it was 12:45pm.
Our run started out well – good launch off the line and the tires started gripping right out of the gate. We got to Picnic Grounds in 1:52 (a personal best for us), and the only other production based car to beat us was none other than Rod Millen driving his son’s 750hp drift car. Transitioning onto dirt for the last time we found the course dry and dusty, so we knew with the stiffer road race suspension we’d fitted to the car that we’d need to be a bit more cautious than in past years. We got to the Glen Cove checkpoint at 5:03 (another personal best), where we were only beaten by pro driver Stephan Verdier who had managed to slip ahead by just 2 seconds.
Another couple corners up and disaster struck, or rather we struck…a guardrail. Heading past the gate for Elk Park near the top of 4th gear, when I went for the brakes the wheels locked up almost instantly. With no ABS in the car I tried my best to pump the brakes trying to shed speed, but there wasn’t any grip to be had, and we went nose first into the guardrail at a hairpin right. At the last second I pulled the e-brake in hopes of lessening the impact, but the damage was done.
A quick turn of the key revealed the engine was still working. After what felt like an eternity (and video replay showed to be just over 30 seconds), we finally managed to get un-stuck and started to pull further up the road. My plan had been to look for a turnout so that we could pull over and not impede any other drivers, but as we pulled away, it became clear that the engine and transmission had survived the impact with no damage – we still had boost!
A quick tug on the wheel in both directions as we headed up the next straightaway and it was clear the Evo was wounded, but sitting in our seats, we had no idea the extent of the damage. It felt like it would turn to the left just fine, but turning right yielded some ‘different’ handling traits. This is Pikes Peak though – so with just one shot this year, we knew we had to aim for the summit. A few more hairpins and we were up to Devils Playground.
Handling was getting worse and at that point we knew we had a rear tire that was flat – thump thump thump. Heading into Bottomless Pit we were greeted with an oil slick that was probably 150 yards long, and a high speed right hander right afterwards. We over-slowed going in and took a narrow line, which was good because by this point the back end would swing out on right handers.
As we headed up through the S-turns of Boulder Park, the rear tire was all but gone, it started hitting the body and the car began to fill with tire smoke. We were so close we figured we’d tough it out. As we approached Cog Cut, all went quiet. The tire had finally left the rim, so we continued on to the finish with 3 tires and a bare rim.
As we crossed the finish line we knew we’d lost massive amounts of time. I turned to Allison and said I’d be happy with something in the 12 minute range. A few minutes later we learned our time, a 12:12.630. Not too bad for running half the event on a flat, and the last 3/4 of a mile on just a rim.
As we waited for the next car to make the summit it became apparent that it was taking a bit too long. As it turns out, Stephan Verdier in the Subaru STi crashed at the exact same spot we did less than 5 minutes after we had and his car sustained more damage. It had been windy all day up on the mountain and his thought was that the wind may have moved some grit/sand/dust onto the road surface which complicated our braking efforts. The pavement is both a blessing and a curse. Supreme levels of grip when the pavement is clear, but mix in a little grit/sand/dust/gravel onto the surface and it gets slick…dangerously slick.
As the rest of the times for our class were reported, we learned that the class winner was just 15 seconds ahead of us, so we still hold the Time Attack AWD record at 11:48. Times were tightly stacked this year so our 12:12 meant a 4th place finish out of 10 cars. After reaching the summit for the 5th time in as many years, we’re still coming to grips with the harsh realities of Pikes Peak on race day. As we took shelter in the Evo from the gusty winds on the summit the second guessing began to set in. Could we have gone a little faster? How much time did we lose stuck on the guard rail?
So what did year 5 teach us? Never give up…even if you’re missing a tire!
We would like to give a huge THANK YOU to all of our sponsors for their support throughout the year.
In addition, we’re so grateful to have good friends who love this race as much as we do and are willing to put in long hours whether its in the office brainstorming, out in the garage fabricating, or on the mountain making setup changes. We want to thank the following people for going above and beyond this year: Mitch McKee, Josh McGuckin, Taz Yeh, & Martin Musial.