Down From the Mountain: 2013 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

Since I became a Coloradan a few years back, I’ve joined all the other car freaks in the Mountain Time Zone for the annual pilgrimage to the 30th-tallest mountain in the state for the big race. I shared my photos from the year Monster Tajima broke the 10-minute barrier, and from from the year the course became all-asphalt, and now I’ve got some shots from last weekend’s event.

Imagine tens of thousands of rowdy race fans, mostly with better access to beer than to oxygen, scattered along the 12-mile course at elevations ranging from 9,390 feet to 14,110 feet. Most of them will bring the coolest vehicle they can lay hands on, which means you’ll see a lot of ancient German sports car, zero-ground-clearance JDM-ified street racers, camper vans outgassing That Junkyard Car Smell, and classic Italian scooters. These guys, who race a Suzuki Swift GT in the 24 Hours of LeMons, rode their scooters 100 miles from Denver and then up to 12,000 feet on the mountain.

The bikes ran first, which turned out to be a good idea— thunderstorms rolled in later in the day.

Even with a dry racing surface, bad things can happen. Right off the bat, a couple of bike racers crashed and had to be airlifted out. The increased speeds resulting from the all-asphalt course meant that crashes may be even hairier than before.

Motorcyclists weren’t the only racers to wreck; the electric car of Latvian Janis Horeliks spun out at the end of the long straight at Halfway Picnic Ground, slid into the mountain, and sent up choking clouds of electrical-fire smoke for quite a while.

Everyone knew that Sebastien Loeb had the best shot at blowing away the record time, so the spectators were quite worked up by the time Loeb’s Peugeot screamed by. So worked up, in fact, that this one leaped right in front of my camera at the crucial moment.

It’s going to take a few more years before the electric cars beat the gasoline ones to the top— it’s coming, though; EVs don’t need oxygen, and battery capacity isn’t a big deal when the course is only 12 miles long— but the electric motorcycles are already there. The Lightning electron-fueled bike (not the bike in this photo) beat all the fossil-fueled two-wheelers with its just-a-hair-over-10-minutes run.

Honda brought a mean-sounding Odyssey minivan.

This Pontiac Solstice clattered by, trailing a cloud of unhappy-engine smoke.

Not many vintage cars entered this race (the organizers have decreed that only race cars that have competed in a previous PPIHC race may enter the Vintage class), but at least we had a couple of yowling Minis as sort of a consolation prize.

The Banks Power Freightliner was apocolyptic.

When it was all over, the racers rolled back down the mountain for 12 miles of high-fives from the spectators.

Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Murilee Martin is the pen name of Phil Greden, a writer who has lived in Minnesota, California, Georgia and (now) Colorado. He has toiled at copywriting, technical writing, junkmail writing, fiction writing and now automotive writing. He has owned many terrible vehicles and some good ones. He spends a great deal of time in self-service junkyards. These days, he writes for publications including Autoweek, Autoblog, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars and Capital One.

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  • Mike1972 Mike1972 on Jul 03, 2013

    Holy cow, we passed by the scooter guys after the race in their well-orchestrated formation on US24 near I-25. And I thought I was dedicated by waking up at 3 AM. Those guys either camped over night with little to no gear, or drove damn near all night on the slower back roads down from Denver. And they made it farther up the mountain before the road closed. Amazing. FYI, the Solstice didn't make it to the Ski Area.

    • See 1 previous
    • Mike1972 Mike1972 on Jul 04, 2013

      @Felis Concolor 105 is a great road. I love driving that route when the weather is nice, but then so do the bicyclists.

  • Featherston Featherston on Jul 05, 2013

    Obligatory YouTube link: (unless you're a big Cream fan, skip ahead to 5:00)

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  • 28-Cars-Later I guess Santa showed up with bales of cash for Mitsu this past Christmas.
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