The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is the second oldest auto-racing event in the United States. Until 1981, it was the domain of race drivers such as the Unsers, in single seaters and stock cars. It was then that the organizers allowed rally cars to enter, and the race’s history was rewritten.
Although rally cars had been competing on the hill since 1981, the 80th anniversary in 2002 was the first time the event had been included as part of the SCCA ProRally series.
For driving 12.5 miles up the twisting dirt road from a starting elevation of 9,000 feet to the summit at 14,400 feet, a vehicle requires special tuning, and a driver needs nerves of steel. The road is carved out of the mountainside, and it has enormous drop-offs and no barriers at the edge.
For first timers the “Race to the Clouds” is a daunting event because of the mountain’s extremely high altitude. There is less air for cars and people to breathe.
Although British teams and drivers have conquered many forms of racing worldwide, Pikes Peak was not one of them. Imagine what it was like for Prodrive as the team arrived in Colorado Springs and looked up at the towering mountain for the first time. Read what they said at the time in a media release:
“We’ve done months of investigating, testing, and just plain asking questions,” remarked Subaru Rally Team USA Manager David Campion, “and it’s all been great information – but you really just have no idea what it’s like up here until you arrive.”
Regardless, all the pre-event preparation was paying off, as Mark Lovell and teammate Ramana Lagemann had excellent tests, immediately establishing competitive times for the rookie team. That was until Lagemann and co-driver Michael Kidd had a miscue coming out of the aptly named “Ragged Edge” turn at 12,000 feet. Lagemann luridly slid the car, finally stopping it with a drop-off of nearly 2,000 feet underneath the front half of the car. Co-driver Kidd hopped out immediately and grabbed onto the rear bumper, as did six photographers who had caught it all on film. “It was going over – no question,” exclaimed one excited photographer. “We could feel it pulling away. The tow truck got here just in time.”
Race day was a complete success, though, as Mark Lovell (with Steve Turvey co-driving) easily won the rally class, becoming the first Brits to win at the famous event. Despite his scare during practice, Lagemann finished fourth.
For many members of the SRT USA team, Pikes Peak in 2002 was one of the satisfying events. Rob Moran, then SOA’s motorsport public relations manager, said it was one of the highlights of the three years he worked with the team. The other? Going to the Thousand Lakes WRC event in Finland with some U.S. journalists in 2001.
Many would agree that Pikes Peak ranks right up there with the best of the WRC events. It’s not surprising to discover now that Subaru and the SCCA were working behind the scenes to try to get Pikes Peak included as a WRC event.
Sometimes you can dream.