Saturday, July 25, 2009

Pikes Peak, A Retrospective: The Driver And Car You Thought Would Win In 2009 Did

Pikes Peak: I have been there. I have driven this road. I know what it is like. But at the same time, I know absolutely nothing. To others, this road is not a beautiful, continuous photography workshop. It is not a resting place. It is not something I visit in my dreams when I'm too scared to look at the pictures for feelings of home. This is... epic. There are a few deeply spiritual places that I have been, and even fewer where there are other people, but Pikes Peak is stunning. I came out of there shell-shocked, smitten, and satisfied. Because of other people, rarely does a national park affect me like Pikes Peak did. And yet, after all that, I still have never known it like some people do.

Pikes Peak International Hill Climb - The Race to the Clouds: 12.42 miles, 156 turns, 4721 feet of elevation gain, and an average grade of 7%, PPIHC is an American race that I adore. In 1916, the inaugural race was run in the Open Wheel cars and won by Rea Lentz with a time of 20:55.40. In 1994, the current Open Wheel record time was set by Robby Unser at 10:05.85. In 1994, Rod Millen set a mountain record in the Unlimited class with a 10:04.06. In 2007, Nobuhiro Tajima, "The Monster," broke that 13 year old record with a 10:01.408 in the Unlimited class, 39 years after he first started racing. He recorded a 10:15.368 this year, leaving the mythical 10 minute mark to be broken another year. In 2009, Rod Millen's son, Rhys Millen, set a 2WD record of 12:09.397, while driving the last four miles with two flat tyres.

Ari Vatanen: He is currently embroiled in a massive political campaign to become the president of the most famous motorsports organizing body in the world, the FIA. He is a ten year member of the European Parliament, and still found time to race in his home race for the 2003 WRC season. In 1981 he took the aging Ford Ford Escort RS 1800 to the top step of the WRC podium three times, retired three times, and somehow came up with the championship by only 7 points - still the only time a privateer team has won the championship. But I don't remember him for that. Like many, I remember Vatanen for Climb Dance, the cinéma vérité short with Vatanen, a Peugeot 405 Turbo 16 GR, the 1988 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, and a record breaking run up the mountain with a time of 10:47.77. When my mind is full of architecture or poetry or philosophy, I calm myself by watching Climb Dance. I can't even estimate how many times I have seen that film - and every time I watch it I fall in love again. Here it is on Youtube.

Marcus Grönholm: By far my favorite WRC driver. He doesn't close his eyes when he races - he doesn't blink. In the WRC he took first in 2000 and 2002, third in a terrible car in 2005, and a pair of seconds in 2006 and 2007 - losing by only four points in 2007 and only 1 in 2006. In 2007 he finished off the podium only 4 times, two fourth places and two late-season retirements with the plagued new car. Those two seasons were the most exciting WRC seasons I have ever seen - Loeb versus Grönholm country after country. In 2006 and 2007 they were together on the podium 9 times. And then Grönholm retired after 2007. In 2009 he has raced one WRC rally, Portugal, and was running fourth when his engine broke down and he was out of the race. And earlier this month, Grönholm took a Ford Focus RS to an 11:28.963 in the Unlimited Class, which was second in-class and fifth on the mountain, behind the Monster and three open-wheel cars. Less than a month after the race, Peak Performance surfaced. The Grönholm team's homage to Climb Dance. At 9:04 in length, to me, this is nothing short of spectacular. Perhaps the best racing film of all time. It surpasses Climb Dance.
Here is a Grönholm montage.
And here is Peak Performance.

Epilogue: Mach 2 Racing took a 1984 Ford RS200 and coaxed 1150HP out of it before letting it loose on the mountain with Mark Rennison at the wheel. They achieved a 12:11.561.

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