There are few things that make my mouth drop these days. In our overly health and safety conscious world where mediocrity is celebrated and dangerous feats are no longer attempted just for the sake of doing them, it really takes something special to get the world’s attention turned toward a single event. But Pikes Peak is still one event that makes my jaw drop and a few weeks ago it had the eyes of the world resting upon it for the 91st running of the race to the clouds.
It’s 3:30am and I’m standing up on Pikes Peak’s highway somewhere near 13,000 feet above sea level. The cool Colorado air is blowing across me with stiff force. Thousands of feet below me, I can watch the stream of cars winding up the hill. Teams, officials, media, fans. They’re all slowly working their way up the 12+ mile mountain course to watch the first official practice session of the week.
But the best part of the morning is sunrise. Looking off to the east, it’s just a glow of faint color. Blue, purple, orange, red, pink. Around 5am, the smallest sliver of bright light peaks over the horizon. Slowly, that sliver becomes bigger and bigger until it is a glowing orange ball hanging low in the sky and sending stunning light across the Rocky Mountains. Those sunrises make the 2:20am wakeup calls more than worth it.
Pikes Peak is such a special event. This second-oldest motor race in the United States is dangerous beyond belief. You take your life in your hands in choosing where to shoot from. Most assignments I get have me bubble wrapped by catch fences and ridiculous safety rules. But not here. With every spot I choose, I HAVE to have an escape route. Sometimes my only choice is to hope and pray the car coming at me doesn’t lose control because my only choice is to jump off a cliff. Other places, my escape is ducking as I hope the car will come shooting over top of me. Such is the steep grade of the cliff I have dug a foxhole into.
It’s insanity. And SO much fun. The mountain is a blank canvas. 12.4 miles of race track to choose from. 156 corners. Pick a spot. Any spot. It is refreshing and invigorating to work on Pikes Peak during this race. Creativity and bravery are my only limits.
But back to jaw-dropping feats performed by men and women who are just wanting to do it: This breed of racers is something unique. Sidecars, motorcycles, open-wheel cars, vintage, electric, time attack and, the baddest of them all, unlimited. These are a small few of the kinds of cars that challenged the Peak this year. But someone special also came to challenge. A nine-time World Rally Champion in a purpose built 875bhp Peugeot. His name is Sebastian Loeb. And he came all the way from Europe to make Pikes Peak his b!t#h. And make it he did.
Rhys Millen set a new overall record last year in a Hyundai Genesis with a time of 9:46. Loeb did it in 8:13.878. He obliterated Rhys’ 2012 time. One of my favorite quotes from the weekend described Loeb’s feat quite well: “Loeb at Pikes Peak was awesome, maybe a bit like that episode of Seinfeld where Kramer does karate with little kids.” While that is not to take away from the skill of the other drivers who tried to match him, it just shows how good he and his car were together as a team. The man has nothing left to prove after being 9x champion against the world’s best off-road racers. The only thing that could have beaten him on Sunday was the mountain itself. And boy did it beat up many others.
So with that, I want to thank from the bottom of my heart the amazing people who make this race my favorite of the year. To Nunez, Cantle and the rest of the crew at Road & Track who trusted me to send them awesome stuff. To Greg and Chris for having me as part of their My Life @ Speed family. To Miles and Hyundai for fun times and great adventures. To Linhberg, Larry, Alex, Gabe, Petra and Jenn for the endless laughs and good times on the mountain. And to Arrick for introducing me to this awesome race last year. And of course to all the fans who offered food, water, beer and entertainment. You all make LONG days on the mountain enjoyable. And lastly the staff of PPIHC who are always friendly and helpful and put on a damn good show. I still can’t believe anyone gets paid to have this much fun.
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