This year celebrated the 90th anniversary of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. The famous course near Colorado Springs involves a full-throttle blast from 9390ft up to the 14110ft summit on a road with a mind-blowing 156 turns in its 12.42 miles.
Regrettably, the Race to the Clouds has claimed lives as well as egos and vehicles for 89 years on its tarmac and gravel mix. however, 2012 marked the first year it was fully paved for its entire length.
The tarmac course enticed some new drivers in extremely fast cars that can now run full race slicks. Many purists and longtime Pikes fans weren’t so happy about this, primarily because it meant all previous records would be shattered. And while the race would never be the same, this shouldn’t give you the wrong idea. The climb to the peak remains intense: it’s plain scary, with sheer cliffs, few guardrails and turns whose names alone induce fear.
In light of the fresh pavement, 034Motorsport decided to bring its Time Attack Audi A4 quattro, based on a 1998 B5 chassis. You may recall this car from the ’09 eurotuner GP where it ran a VR6 turbo under the hood and dominated the field. However, the bay now houses a 2.0L 20v turbo four-cylinder that makes around 600whp, transforming the car into a different animal. “We aren’t a rally team, so with the course being paved it gave us a new challenge to test ourselves, products and determination on such an amazing course,” said Javad Shadzi, President of 034.
In early June, the team conducted testing at Pikes Peak with pro driver Robb Holland behind the wheel. This was Robb’s first time both in the car and on the hill. “Robb got faster by 5-10sec each run,” Javad noted.
High altitude testing was also done at 6500ft in Colorado Springs to tune the ECU’s barometric compensation mapping because 034 wanted to ensure the car could run in the thin air.
At the end of the test weekend, the A4 was fastest in the Time Attack class, with gaps up to 5sec between other teams in the same class.
Following destructive wildfires in Colorado, the original race was postponed until mid August, with practice taking place the week prior.
Practice went well for 034, the crew qualified second fastest with experienced wheelman Randy Pobst driving. He was close behind class leader Rhys Millen in a Hyundai Genesis Coupe; the Pikes Peak veteran bringing major backing plus a huge crew and fully built racecar.
With the course broken into three sections for practice, Rhys was much, much faster – by as much as 15sec in some sectors. He was even faster than some Unlimited Class cars, which is possibly where his car should have been placed…
From our vantage point it appeared that, provided he didn’t crash, Millen would win the Time Attack class and possibly take overall victory.
With Friday being the last day of practice, and 034 seemingly well prepared for its first event, fate stepped in. “On Friday’s last practice run, about a minute from the end, the crankshaft pulley let go,” explained Javad. “Ironically, it was one of the few remaining factory parts on the engine, and had lasted 30-40 hours, but it literally shattered into tiny pieces. This was the first failure we’d experienced with the part, but Pikes Peak is grueling and the continuous gear shifts put lots of strain on the drivetrain components.”
In a display of camaraderie, Scott Simpson’s 3zero3 Motorsports had opened the doors of its Denver shop for the 034 team. The 3zero3 crew were also a huge help when rebuilding the heart of the four-ringed monster.
Towing the car from the mountain, it arrived at the shop by noon, and by 5pm was completely torn down with all the repair parts ordered for Saturday delivery. “We got our first full night’s sleep on Friday night,” recalled Javad, “but we were back at 3zero3 by 10am to receive the parts and continue working.”
Wrenching on the car went late into the next night, with the car needing to be on the mountain by 3am Sunday morning to race. Despite having the A4 fully reassembled by 1am, “the motor just wasn’t right,” said an exhausted Javad.
It’s a cliché, but that’s racing. It’s the reality of entering one of the toughest races in the world, and why you must be passionate to take part. “Ultimately, we pushed with every ounce of our energy and resolve, we did our best but the circumstances didn’t work in our favor,” Javad stated. “Had that pulley lasted another 12min, we’d have successfully finished the event.”
Although abandoned by lady luck, 034 displayed what it takes to compete at the highest level of motorsport, while shops like 3zero3 displayed how a good shop should be run. However, we’ve known 034 for years and, if past experience is anything to go by, these guys will return more determined and even better prepared next year.
Of course, the race continued. There were crashes and multiple records either broken or demolished, both on two wheels and four. In fact, 2012 was the first year a motorcycle broke the magic 10min mark.
It was last year’s winner, Carlin Dunne, on his Spider Grips Ducati Multistrada 1200 S who shattered his previous motorcycle record of 11:11.32 with an insane 9:52.819 run, hitting speeds of up to 144mph on the straights.
This was also the year factory-backed Rhys Millen turned his Hyundai drift car into a hill climb special and beat Monster Taijima’s 2011 record of 9:52 with a blistering 9.46.164.
The time even put him ahead of the most anticipated Pikes Peak rookie, Romain Dumas in a 911 GT3 RSR. Millen beat him by a miniscule 0.017sec, although Dumas had a damp track.
So while diehard fans believed the original spirit of the Race to the Clouds was dead, Pikes Peak remains America’s Mountain. It still requires a hefty set of balls to tackle the hill at full tilt, although the dirt always looked harder. Regardless, we’ll be back next year, and you can bet 034Motorsport will be too.