The Pikes Peak International Hillclimb is one of the oldest and toughest races in the world. First run in 1916, it pitted runners against both the clock and the capricious climate of the 14,110-foot mountain for more than a century. More popular abroad than in its home country, the race is best known to professional drivers who recognize it as one of the toughest competitions in the world.
This year, the 100th overall historic, a pair of well-known MotorTrend the personalities both raced against their class competitors and the mountain. Feature Editor Jonny Lieberman in his freshman year competed in Yokohama’s Porsche Pikes Peak Trophy, a spec class running Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsports. Contributor and pro racer Randy Pobst has returned to the mountain for the fourth time, this time with an upgraded version of the Unplugged Performance Tesla Model S Plaid he rode last year.
Just reach the top
Runners are always racing to win, but sometimes have other things on their minds: “Don’t die,” Lieberman said when asked about his pre-race goals. As a rookie and having seen two people in his class go off the road for the week leading up to race day, his goal was simply to get to the top in one piece and maybe beat the guy who ran similar times. to him all week. “The Battle for Fourth Place [in class] is vicious,” he joked.
For Pobst, the goal was to set a new four-door electric vehicle record. The overall mountain record is held by Volkswagen’s purpose-built ID.R EV race car, which was considerably smaller and lighter than Pobst’s heavily modified Model S Plaid sedan. It was also a year of potential redemption for him after a few flawed showings at Pikes. He’s crashed twice in previous races, once dramatically enough that the corner where it happened is renowned for him. Last year he reached the top in this same car but the race was cut short due to bad weather at the top. It was the year to go all the way.
The weather, however, again refused to cooperate.
“I couldn’t see anything,” Lieberman said. “It was foggy for 75% of my run. I just gave up after Devil’s Playground, couldn’t see where I was going. I feel robbed.”
Lieberman’s trainer, Pikes Peak legend and 2022 competitor Jeff Zwart called the intense fog “the toughest weather I’ve ever encountered.” He would know, because he’s been racing at Pikes since 1994. Other equally experienced riders like Rhys Millen, David Donohue, David Donner and this year’s winner Robin Shute agreed with that assessment.
The problem was compounded by the class tire rule requiring the use of a specific street tire regardless of the conditions. Brought to you by Yokohama, this tire is the Advan A052 ultra high performance summer tire. There are still a few gouges to shed water, but not much, and there was still snow on the sides of the road near the top of the previous night’s storm.
“Fortunately, traction wasn’t an issue,” Lieberman said. “The grip was great. That said, this car doesn’t produce a ton of power, so you really only have to worry about spinning them in the first corners. I just couldn’t see.”
Despite the conditions, Lieberman not only made it to the top, but finished just short of the podium in fourth place out of six in his class and 53rd overall out of 72.
Veteran runner and MT contributor Randy Pobst also struggled with the terms, but in different ways. His Model S Plaid rode in the more permissive Exhibition class which allows the team to choose between a Yokohama slick race tire and a treaded wet weather tire. Pobst opted for the rain tire and actually felt confident about his chances ahead of his race.
“I think this weather could be an advantage for us,” Pobst said. “With the weight of the car and the all-wheel drive, we should be able to get out of very tight corners much stronger than some of the other cars in our class.”
Unfortunately, a completely different weather-related problem hampered his race. In the coldest, wettest and foggiest upper section, Pobst’s windshield fogged up. Unable to find the defroster control buried in the Tesla’s on-screen menus as he raced up the mountain at over 100 mph with extremely limited visibility, Pobst resorted to loosening his suspenders to be able to lean far enough in before to wipe the windshield a little with his glove.
On the plus side, the cooler temperatures and the decision to use much less regenerative braking on race day helped address an overheating battery issue the team had encountered earlier in the week. Fine-tuning the suspension and ride height also helped keep the car’s comical front splitter from crashing to the ground in the extremely bumpy section of Cog Cut, a bend near the top where one of Lieberman class competitors left for practice after being unable to stop the car once it unsettled over the bumps.
Still, fourth in class and 19th overall, that’s not what last year’s Exhibition class winner was hoping for.
There’s always next year
Like all major racing events, Pikes Peak tends to sink its claws into those who dare to run it. Lieberman’s feeling of being deprived of a good course was pervasive among the drivers, who were all disappointed with their times. This year’s winner was more than 30 seconds behind the 2021 winner (last year it was raced in full). Everyone wants another try, and Unplugged Performance has already pledged to return next year for another four-door electric vehicle record run. Lieberman, meanwhile, is already in talks with potential new sponsors for next year’s race. MotorTrend representation at Pikes Peak looks pretty solid for 2023 and possibly beyond.