Updated: Aug 4, 2020
Spectators start lining up at the gates of America's Mountain before the clock strikes midnight on race day for The Broadmoor Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, brought to you by Gran Turismo. Moving up or down the mountain isn't an option after the early morning hours. The pitch-black drive up to the viewing area known as the Devil's Playground (13,000+ ft) is harrowing at 15 mph; hard to imagine cars and motorcycles doing the same drive at triple-digit speeds.
The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is one of the most unique racing events in the world. The 12.42 mile course on a public toll-road to the summit of Pikes Peak consists of 156 turns and 4,720 ft of elevation gain from a starting altitude of 9,390 ft to 14,115 ft at the finish line. As the air thins on the drive to the summit, drivers' reflexes slow and vehicle engines lose up to 30% of the power they are capable of at the start line. Conquering the course is both an engineering and physical feat.
Sunrise from Devil's Playground is one of the most magical times of the day. On practice days, cars and motorcycles zip around turns as the road glows in a vivid gold.
On the mountain, you're isolated. At 13,000+ feet there is little cell reception. Spectators rely on radios to get up-to-date race information. You become a kind of community with fellow fans in the 16+ hours spent together on race day.
The fastest driver to the top is crowned King of the Mountain. The very first Hill Climb in 1916 had a winning time of 20:55.6 by Rea Lentz. The current course record is just under 8 minutes. While today's course is fully paved allowing for faster speeds, it remains mercilessly difficult and unforgiving.
A successful run to the summit is an accomplishment in itself. Drivers face rapidly changing conditions. The 2019 race finished on a shortened course because of bad weather at upper elevations. Spectators at Devil's Playground spent the end of the race hunkered down in vehicles as hail and lightning passed through the area.
Tragedy struck the 2019 race.The most anticipated ride of the day was Carlin Dunne racing on the 2019 Ducati Streetfighter V4 Prototype. As the 4-time champion sped through Devil's Playground spectators cheered with excitement. Minutes later a car was red flagged at the turn before the straightaway in the same area. Without cell service it was hard to know what had occurred. It wasn't until returning home that the news stated that Carlin Dunne has passed away after an accident near the finish line. Dunne’s death was the seventh Hill Climb fatality and the third motorcyclist to die in six years. Dunne was the first motorcyclist to break the 10 minute barrier and was on pace to set a new course record when the fatal crash occurred.
The 2020 Hill Climb will not include motorcycles as race directors assess safety and whether or not they should ever return.
Racing is inherently dangerous, but the risks don't stop the engineers, drivers, and support teams from chasing their dreams on America's Mountain. They are driven by passion, skill, and a desire to push the boundaries of human and machine.
The 98th running of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb will take place in June 2020.