Pikes Peak: The definitive guide to a successful hill climb.

Imagine my surprise to open my inbox and find a message from Paul Gerrard – pro racing driver and stunt driver for Top Gear and Grand Tour.

Hearing from Paul wasn’t what caught me off guard, we’ve exchanged a dozen pleasant emails. In fact I featured him in two episodes of the Racers HQ Podcast, (Episode 31 and Episode 32) both of which were extremely tactical and helpful to my audience.

Paul doesn’t go anywhere without leaving a trail of massive value, which he proved yet again by including a 17 page article in his email with a brief note that said “would you like to post this on your site?” Hence my surprise.

How could I possibly say no? As the author of Optimum Drive I know that Paul possesses the unique combination of being fast in the car and being able to convey, on paper, why he’s fast.

And considering that this article does a beautiful job unraveling the mysteries of Pikes Peak, I’ve moved around all my scheduled content to get this out as quickly as possible.

I have no issue saying that the following piece is among the best writing I’ve ever seen, including everything I’ve ever written. It’s poignant, thrilling, and full of strategies and lessons for the aspiring racer.

Considering how long (and remarkably thorough) it is, I’ve included a narrated audio version of this article as well.

Here’s Paul.

-Matt


Written By: Paul Gerrard, professional racing driver, stunt driver, and author of Optimum Drive. You can follow Paul on Facebook. | Photos courtesy of Dave Liddle

It started with a photo on Facebook. A single picture on the Performance Race Industries (PRI) news feed. It showed a rolling tubular chassis with a twin turbo Chevy LS (of course!) sitting behind a tiny driver cell with giant meaty tires hung off a formula style pushrod three spring suspension.

“Interesting,” I muttered as zoomed in trying to gobble up any details I could, “that looks like it would be a bonkers Pikes Peak car.”

pikes peakMy scanning came up with a name: LoveFab. A quick search came up with a YouTube Video, a video with a lot of views and a lot of fire. “well that’s not good…”

Against my better judgment, I didn’t let it go, I messaged LoveFab and got a response from a guy named Cody Loveland… the builder and pilot of the fireball. We exchanged pleasantries and quickly cut to the chase:

Me: “is this car built for Pikes Peak?”

Cody: “yes”

Me: “I’d like to drive it”

Cody: “….” (he googles me while I wait for a response)

Cody: “How tall are you?”

Me: “5’7” “

Cody: “OK”

The first tiny steps in a journey up a 14,115ft mountain, one of fifty-eight “fourteeners” in Colorado, but this one is special, it has a road all that way to the top and unlike Mt. Evans (which you can also drive to the top of), Pikes Peak happens to have hosted a Race To the Clouds for nearly a century – the only older race in the United States is the Indy 500.

Why does this race persevere? Why is it adored internationally? It is impossible, that’s why. You see, it is a public road for 364 days of the year and it moves. That’s right, the paved road physically moves, the whole mountain is constantly shifting geologically.

That was OK when it was gravel since it was always graded smooth but the Sierra Club got a bee in its bonnet in 1998 and decided to make a statement on America’s Mountain.

It took 13 years until the paving was complete at Pikes Peak…a continuously shifting and heaving mountain.

We now had a paved road – game changer. No more beautiful arcing drifts performed buy everything from Stock Cars to Wells Coyotes or occasionally exotic Foreign factory built 1000 HP fires breathing AWD monsters (go to YouTube and watch “Climb Dance”).

Couldn’t you now just show up with and Indy Car a F1 car or group C Prototype and rule the roost, rewrite the record books?  The mountain moves. You now had more grip but more bumps, the Wells didn’t have the grip for pavement but it had the travel for the bumps while the Le Mans car had the grip but not the wheel travel.

Suddenly (well, over 13 years suddenly), there wasn’t a car that could tame the mountain. The mountain is and always will be in charge from its continuously undulating surface to its ever changing unpredictable and often violent weather.

The fireball guy (Cody Loveland) knew this, in his small shop in rural Michigan he hatched a plan. Build a modern Pikes Peak Special, there have been many Pikes Peak Specials over the hundred years but this one – this one was the first purpose built car to come with the moving pavement in the crosshairs.

What did it require? A prototype with suspension travel. Steal all the positive attributes from the old-school dirt cars and marry them to a modern prototypes’ downforce and grip.

The Enviate – Pikes Peak Monster

It’s a hybrid. Oh don’t worry, not the gas sipping left lane sitting kind of hybrid. It’s the cool kind like a lonely werewolf meets a vampire kind of hybrid…that chugs Sunoco 118 octane like an army of frat boys with beer bongs.

It’s got it all: travel, downforce and grip. Perfect uphill weight distribution that lets it launch off corners like it was AWD without the added weight and complexity of AWD. It’s designed for today’s very different and difficult Pikes Peak.

If this were your typical marketing story from a manufacturer it would be a simple matter of sending Cody’s bank a rather large seven figure check and then ordering some champagne to spray at the top when the deed is done.

We can dream, can’t we?

Because I, the driver, am not employed by a corporation I’m not sitting around writing this in a spotless, spacious corner office. I am a guy who likes to drive for a living and has to scrape together every possible potential opportunity that comes my way.

Cody knows the feeling all too well but his scars run deeper. Yeah. There was the fireball moment but he also has to foot the bill. The car is his, after all. That’s the financial reality of his dream. Dreaming is free but reality is expensive.

Day by Day, Dollar by Dollar

So it began. We had a car, we had a driver, we had a goal – the 2016 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. You may be asking yourself if the year is a typo. No. That’s racing, as they say.

The best laid plans and all that. Pike Peak is a unique event. You see, you have to be invited. This presents a problem to small new team – especially if they have already done something quite memorable on the mountain (like burst into flames for example).

The problem is universal, we have a dream and an actual rolling car but no sponsors and the one thing any sponsor does not want to hear is that we might get in.

Please send us stuff and/or money because we might be able to fulfill our obligations to you is not a strong marking pitch. The other tricky bit is that entries are not confirmed until February only giving you (a practically useless) four months to make it all happen.

I would love to see that all become more sponsor friendly in the future but that is today’s reality. So 2016 was not meant to be but at least we now had a more realistic block of time to get things accomplished.

Switzerland, Home of Fine Chocolates, Diamonds, Watches and…

A simple Facebook photo. It got my attention but I wasn’t the only one.

A small village called Hinwil near Zurich appropriately at the base of a large mountain sits one of only two Formula One teams not to reside in the United Kingdom (the other being Ferrari). Sauber, it’s a medium sized F1 team (300 employees) with a long and storied history of being gritty, determined and always punching well above it weight (budget).

Out of the 300 many (as you might guess) are engineers and as you might also guess, many have Facebook accounts. Formula One may be the ultimate expression of motorsport but it certainly is not the paradigm of self-expression. Formula One is about two things: Rules and Money. Two things that box all 300 of the Sauber employees into the midfield at best.

No dreaming here, just cold hard facts, rules and boxes that the car and the team had to fit into. Somewhere deep in the inner workings of this fine mid-priced Swiss watch was a cog with an imagination, a cog with a dream…and Facebook.

Sebastien Lamour: F1 Aerodynamicist

When Cody is sitting in his cold, dark shop in Michigan, in the middle of a long bleak Midwestern Winter, he’ll be looking for something to weld so he might stay warm. He hears his cheery Facebook messenger chime and casually has a peek at his phone (which is permanently attached to the front of Cody’s face, welding or not). “Hmmm Se-bas-tien La-Mour, who is that?”

Seb: “ello Cody, I work for the Sauber F1 team”

Cody thinks “and I’m the president of the United States…” but actually asks for more information and starts Googling immediately…he is legit. Cody answers: “what do you do there?”

Seb: “I am an aerodynamicist, I saw you picture and I have always wanted to do Pikes Peak”

Cody instantly types “yes please.”

An Unlikely Alliance

So, you have an old school tubular chassis (albeit it with perfect geometry, thanks to a guy named Aric Streeter) mated to an old school Chevy LS Twin Turbo, driven by a part time lifetime pro – soon to be wrapped in state of the art carbon fiber. All designed by one on the best in the business on a shoestring budget – thanks to Cody.

He had to learn how to build carbon fiber parts. But if you know Cody, it didn’t matter. There’s zero fear in that man. He has a talent for learning things nearly instantaneously.

Seb is sending CAD files, and running it all virtually in the wind tunnel with the help of college professor Timoteo Briet (whose CFD super computer wasn’t tied up 24/7 like Sauber’s).

Cody and I are out on our own sponsor hunting but we are not alone – we are not the only people who saw that photo.

I mentioned Aric Streeter, the cheery race car hobbyist and Sirius/XM engineer. Manuel Grenier, also from Sauber, specializing in suspension and vehicle modeling. Shawn Zimmerman the crew chief. Adam Peeling the engine tuner. Tyler Hassing the engine builder. Nick Jesaitis, mechanic. Cole Duran, the Colorado Springs shop owner. The jovial Dan Piper. And finally Jessica Crowbridge, who got the unenviable task of making us somehow seem presentable.

All of us from different parts of the world with distinctive pieces of a common puzzle, and a common dream – Cody’s crazy dream. He and the mountains cast a spell on us, we had to see the car to the top, the ultimate underdog story. 

Reality Bites

While I did sit in the Enviate at the PRI show in December 2016, I did not get to drive her until June 2nd 2017.  It didn’t go very well.

On just my second lap in the car the throttle stuck wide open. If you know driving you know this is not a small thing, especially when you are unfamiliar with the car.

Fortunately, my first reaction was to swipe the switches I had just been walked through a few minutes prior and the crisis averted.

After that was resolved, I was able to sample the awesome pace and visceral power of a car with a one-to-one power to weight ratio, perfect weight distribution, big sticky tires, and carbon brakes.

It means in every direction this car, without the aero downforce (low speeds) can generate about 2Gs of force –  that’s accelerating (very rare, usually only drag cars), cornering, and braking. Then you add in the aero component and the cars speed very rapidly increases and you soon can corner and brake well above 4Gs.

We called it good after the cooling system starting showing signs of overheating, which we suspected was due to the low speed nature of the IMI track. But as it turns out this issue would haunt us all the way to the top of Pikes Peak.

Reality Really Does Bite

The next time I drove the car was at La Junta which was once a WWII B-24 base.  It’s rough.

Perfect, it would test the suspension and we would see if it would be up to the rigors of Pike Peak.

Again, the car showed staggering speed (close to the track record in a few laps). But as fast as it went, the temps would also rise, which limited us to short runs.

On the second run, accelerating over a bump on the exit of the corner, a rear suspension pushrod folded in two, instantly dropping the right rear on the deck.

I dutifully slowed the car and the team rolled out to recover me and the stricken Enviate.

It was late, just after sunset, and evidently a significant proportion of the mosquitos in the world live at the track and sleep until sunset. We were mercilessly attacked as we tried to load the car with each of us suffering from hundreds if not thousands of bites in what seemed like an eternity getting the bottomed out car into the trailer.

The car may have been loaded but we still had a two hour drive to the shop in Colorado Springs.  Did I mention the next morning was our mandatory official test on the mountain? Did I mention we were on double secret probation with the Pikes Peak officials because fireball?

This was the first of many, many all-nighters to come. We were just weeks from the race and I was driving the car in anger for the first time. The ticking from the clock was getting overbearingly loud (#teamnosleep became a thing).

The Test

Pikes Peak mountain is big – so big that you never get to drive to the top in a single run. For testing they break it into sections to spread people all over the mountain and maximize driving time. We were on the bottom on the first day.

They also are pragmatic in another sense. It’s a toll road so they don’t want to lose any potential revenue so we had to test early…really early. Usually from 5 AM until 8:30 AM. That means we usually have to leave by three in the morning to be set up in time.

Somehow Cody Aric and Nick, with the help of Cole and Dale, had managed not just to repair but completely reengineered the pushrods on both sides. They replaced the bending joints in the rear suspension, re-aligned the car and got it to the mountain.

That’s after being eaten by mosquitos and arriving at the shop after 11PM. 

We were in line and I was excited, and a bit apprehensive, (suspension failures and sticking throttles tend to do that) but my job is simple on Groundhog Day – wipe the slate clean and just drive the car.

I had one job – to drive the car at its current possible limit while keeping it on the road while making mental notes to provide feedback for the team. First run and I was off. It felt like the car had a mind of its own, darting all over the road.

What felt good on the racetrack felt positively diabolical at the Enviate leapt from side to side while going straight, braking, or cornering. Even under power it only felt OK.

It was a test though  and I couldn’t just cruise up the segment – everyone was watching.

On the last run I just went for it, taking a huge chunk of time off. The “successful” test took off of probation and solidified our place at the event. 

But we had still made a mistake – that classic assumption that I am sure countless teams have made: “Pikes Peak is probably about as bumpy as a bad race track” or “I can go test on a bad race track therefore and get my Pikes Peak setup dialed in without having to really go there.”  

Wrong, wrong wrong. Pikes Peak is so much bumpier (and maybe more important: undulating) that you can’t replicate it to anywhere else. We were in but we had a lot of work ahead of us.

The Leap of Faith

As a racing driver leaps of faith are bad ideas.

I talk about it in my book Optimum Drive. Be rational and incremental. Earn your speed step by step. It’s sound advice, but there is a problem.

Some setups, especially cars fitted with aerodynamics, feel so bad when they are driven slowly that you never feel safe or confident enough. However counterintuitive it may be, aero cars have to be driven far beyond the scariest point – because at higher speeds the car actually begins to behave.

Supercross bikes are the same way. The suspension is so stiff that unless you are a Supercross rider and can comfortably hit massive triple jumps with full commitment you’ll swear the suspension is broken or locked solid.

Aero cars and racing tires work the same way. They operate in a window that takes years of experience to reach.

Now imagine trying to find that optimal window of operation on a crazy surface that is much bumpier than any track – and you’ll see the problem.

It’s so much harder to reach the operating window so the car never feels happy. I had to trust the aero so much more than when I had driven similar cars on a smooth track. Which, as it turns out, is relatively easy by comparison.

The other factor, of course, is safety. Pikes Peak is a mountain road. Not just bumpy, but narrower than a normal race track – about  1/3 to ½ narrower, in fact.

Then there is the cost of failure. There are no gravel traps, paved run-off zones, barriers, or buffers of any kind. In most places there are no guardrails protecting you from the cliffs and massive drops.

You see why driver confidence and pushing the car to the limit are difficult – but essential is you’re going to be successful.

Dropping one wheel off could not only hurt you physically but it could do so much damage that you would be out of the event. The pavement may be undulating, bumpy, and narrow but it’s a hell of a lot better than going off the road.

The Grind

We had discovered that the car was darty and unpredictable during the test session. And even though the suspension got better as I pushed harder it was still not nearly ideal. We decided to put in a slower ratio steering rack to reduce the twitchiness.

The problem was that the car and Cody were now in Michigan and I was not. We needed to test it locally. As luck would have it there was a GridLife event that weekend at GingerMan Raceway. I flew out there and hopped in the car for what I hoped would be a productive day of testing.

Three laps for 20 hours of driving, that’s all I got. Two flying laps after a warm up and oil started spewing out of the too-small catch can. It started a small fire that burned up the ignition wires and ended our day.

Was it a wasted trip? Far from it, the steering was much improved. We had taken a large step forward.

Race Week

We had a do-to list a mile long and very little time to complete it.

It was race week and we had to test at La Junta one last time before we were locked into the inflexible race week. The Pikes Peak traditions, procedures (like tech inspection), and final testing were in full swing.

The oil and cooling systems were all getting major revisions, and the whole crew had arrived. It was all hands on deck for the test at La Junta. We would do 10 minute runs there. 

Once on the mountain it would be very hard to tell if we have solved our cooling problems, with the mountain segments only being a few minutes.

I got in the car as the engine guys buzzed around. The boost was up – we were making serious horsepower now. It made me smile.

I like really fast cars. For some reason they suit me. I was happy and the car flew. 

Power changes cars. It makes them easier to get into that window. Everything came alive, became harmonious, you could feel Seb’s aerodynamics complement Cody’s chassis and Aric’s (and Manuel’s) setup. 

It was glorious until the rear wing exploded at 170MPH. Once again I dutifully brought the car back to the pits. It had been less than ten minutes so we still didn’t know about the cooling system and we now had to figure out how to build of rebuild a disintegrated wing in less than 24 hours to pass tech inspection.

Back to Cole’s spotless shop at RPM Performance.

It was frustrating for everyone – two steps forward one step back. But then you have to remember this is a one-off custom design and not some show car. We were trying to progress the car within a few weeks and it should have taken months, if not years.

The fact that there were any forward steps was a minor miracle. The car made every test session and every run on the mountain. 

If not for the PTSD symptoms displayed by the team each morning you’d think we had simply put in it the trailer each day after we ran it and then pulled it back out the next morning.

Carbon Puzzle

We were all back at the shop with our carbon wing jigsaw puzzle laying on the floor. None of us were talented fabricators.

Cody looked at the mess and knows he can put it back together. I am not so sure. I think back to my earliest days driving on the Paul Ricard Circuit, standing at the spot where Elio De Angelis died from a broken rear wing.

You remember moments like that all your life. Then I realized that I’d be up the sketchy Pikes Peak road in a car faster than Elio’s F1 car.

I made a phone call. The kind you make when a doctor gives you news you don’t want to accept and you want a second opinion.

This was Cody’s first carbon fiber work he had ever done. But I happened to be friends with a guy that has a resume in carbon that has stretched for decades. His name was Eric Strauss and he is completely nuts…he’d fit in perfectly.

I shouldn’t have been worried. Eric saw our new fabrication after dropping everything to come a rescue me and simply said…”that’ll work.”

Cody is the king of calm. He is also the man – the entire point of the Enviate. All of this was for him. He is magnetic – everyone there was sucked into his dream.

We all desperately wanted to make it happen for him. Like some crazy idea that seemed brilliant at the time, with your best friends, in a tree fort, when you were eleven.

Only we aren’t eleven. We had developed skills and resources. We could actually accomplish anything.

Dreaming is Easy, Life is Hard

As per usual for #teamnosleep, we cut things close and got to tech inspection with minutes to spare. As soon as we rolled the car out of the trailer the crowd was there and the cameras started clicking. The car and Cody had a surprisingly huge internet following.

It has to do, of course, with the absurdly unique underdog factor. You don’t simply build a prototype in your shop and take it to Pikes Peak. You build a Subaru or an EVO, maybe a Porsche or a GTR.

Those are known cars with a performance backgrounds and strong aftermarket support. You just need money to buy stuff that already exists on a shelf somewhere.

That’s not in Cody’s DNA.

Nothing off the shelf was going to threaten a top level time on the mountain. That’s only accomplished by prototypes. And prototypes cost millions to build and run. Unless you’re Cody, who welds like a demon and learns carbon fiber like Neo learns Kung Fu in the Matrix.

The internet loves people like Cody – people we can all vicariously live through.

The tech inspection team also seems charmed by the Enviate sitting there looking like a million bucks.

We breezed through tech and I could have sworn I heard Cody say “these are not the droids you are looking for” several times. Whatever, it worked – the only fix was shortening the seat belt slack. We were in shock and Cody was just smirking his best “told you so.”

Pikes Peak Testing Begins

We were feeling pretty good, all things considered. It was dark and cold at 4:30 AM and we at 13,000 ft waiting for the sun to come up. Car was ready, rear wing now stuffed with aluminum and rivets. The cooling system and catch can systems all new and improved.

I was strapped in minutes after sunrise and off we went. What did I notice? The car is all over the place. Bumps are yanking the wheel out of my hands and I was catching air in some places.

That would have been fine if I was trying to set a world record with Hot Wheels for distance jumped in a truck (like I did with Tanner Foust in 2011).

But this was a car with four very generous inches of total wheel travel – not a Baja truck. It was the most scared I had ever been on the mountain.

Mainly I was surprised – on the racetrack the car was fun, predictable and balanced. But that crazy undulating surface from the tire test was so much worse at the top.

We thought we had solved it with the slower ratio steering rack. But now on the bigger bumps on the top section of Pikes Peak I realized it was much worse than we thought.

Luckily this was an optional day and that meant we would get to try the top again before the race on Sunday.

While our experienced competitors flew, we were slow with big gaps to the front. This was not going to be easy.

I was quiet on the way down, the mountain had humbled me, there was much work to do (#teamnosleep).

Qualifying

As luck would have it, the very first day of official practice was our qualifying.

The field was broken up into three groups. Whenever you ended up on the lower section – that was your qualifying run. It happened to be our first day.

The bottom is fast and it’s also the longest section from the start to Glen Cove. We had a very robust debrief after day one and fortunately the smart guys on the team (everyone but me, basically) had corrected my assumptions on what to do next with the suspension.

I wanted to go softer, thinking all of that jarring and bouncing was caused by the suspension was too stiff (because it felt so good on the racetrack).

But it turns out that our fancy third heave springs were actually too soft – not too stiff. We were bottoming and actually needed to be much stiffer. Counterintuitive in a way, but absolutely correct.

The car was transformed and much of the dartiness was banished to a bad memory.

On the third run we slapped on the soft tires, fresh off the warmers at 200F and went for a heater lap.

The warm tires felt amazing and I was finally getting into a rhythm in a 1000 HP high downforce car rocketing up a narrow mountain road.

I was sure we would be second or so, which would really help our start position race day.

Unfortunately, two minutes in, a wire (we later found out) to one of the water pumps got pinched and shorted out, causing the car to immediately overheat.

I nursed it to the finish much slower than the car’s potential but still good enough for what it turned out would be seventh overall.

From that moment though, failing pump aside, we were competitive on the mountain (not just setting lap records on smooth racetracks). The car worked here. Cody, Sebastien, and Aric were right – this missile was a true modern Pikes Peak Special.

Fast is One Thing…

The thing about racing that attracts us in the first place is the shear speed. Speed alone rarely ever wins races. It is consistency. And consistency comes from two things: reliability and predictability.

It is the pragmatism of science that makes us believe in the car. We understand it, can control it, and can therefore predict it. From that we get a feeling: trust.  

When a driver can trust the car they can do something almost magical. They can become one with the car. They can flow together. This is where real speed comes from.

I know that’s not what people outside of racing want to believe. They want us to be crazy. But we are not. We are more like meditating monks who happen to be controlling something going extraordinarily fast (I talk about this extensively in Optimum Drive).

The Enviate and I now had the beginnings of trust. And the times showed it was, reliability problems aside, the second fastest car on the mountain.

Those Are the Brakes

One thing I haven’t mentioned was the brake package. Common sense tells Pikes Peak drivers not to use F1-style carbon-carbon brakes. The reason is a lack of warm up time. They don’t begin to work until about 800F (up to about 1400F).

So for the first few miles you have basically no brakes – and that’s not good.

But Rob Smith and RPS Carbon Brakes had a new process that allowed the brakes to work at 300F. That’s easy to get to. Especially if you have 1000 HP. Just a minuscule drag of the left foot while on the gas will get them in range they’re ready to go before you need them (very important point).

I’m the lucky guy that first got to try them on the mountain and they are staggeringly great brakes. The decelerating power is absurd (especially with Seb’s aero in full effect).

The modulation is easy and granular release characteristics are excellent (for all you trail-brakers out there). They are the best brakes I have ever used and this car demanded no less than that.

Middle Section

Pikes Peak is very different top to bottom. The curvy, flowing, fast tree-lined section gives way to stop and go ultra-narrow hairpins as you climb above tree line. The rhythm is very different and challenging.

Strangely enough on paper you’d think our car wouldn’t like the stop and go middle section. But in reality it loved it.

You see, Cody and Aric didn’t just replicate a Le Mans car. They knew the minimum speed of Pikes Peak was much lower. On some of the hairpins you go as slow as 25mph.

Our car is rear wheel drive, but it has more static weight on the back than a normal mid-engine car. The geometry optimizes weight transfer under acceleration, so it launches of any corner like it’s a drag car. And I already told you how good the RPS brakes are. This thing works everywhere.

Slow is Fast?

So the last day of practice arrived and we went back to Devils Playground at 13,000ft.

We had another all-nighter adding five more degrees of caster to further improve stability. We also checked every nut and bolt on the entire car (every night), adjusted corner weights, and made aero tweaks.

I don’t know the half of what gets done to the car every night. You want to know why? I’m sleeping. They kick me out. They want me fresh and ready in the morning, but it feels terrible leaving them at 10PM – but they are right.

It’s a waste of all their effort if I’m too wiped to focus. For this I am eternally grateful to them.

So I go out on my first run, taking it easy on cold tires – just a shakedown like I do every morning. It turned out we went second quickest and were within 1.4 seconds of Romain Dumas…the King of the Mountain.

This was getting interesting. But fog rolled in and closed the curtain on a very productive practice week. The car has gone from scarily undrivable to real contender.

Golf clap for an amazing crew.

Fan Fest

Colorado Springs really embraces the Hill Climb. On Friday of the race week they shut down the downtown area and we set up and signed autographs.

We also fired up the car on the two step (a drag launch system that builds boost by dumping fuel and igniting it after the cylinders) created a serious racket, pretty fire, and sparks that got the thousands of fans whipped up into a fervor (hopefully just short of looting or stripping the car for souvenirs).

Good fun and a nice change of pace from the never stop, never done mentality of the practice week.

Show Time

We met at the gate at 11:30PM, slept until 2AM, then headed up to sleep at the start line until 6AM before going to the drivers meeting – try to find a place to brush your teeth and have a cup of tea.

Ah, the glamor of racing, right there.

So with my hair pointing in ten directions and feeling a bit groggy and sore (not a camping fan, nor a car sleeping aficionado), we waited.

I had been driving the mountain every day for hours after practice, doing low speed loops on the next day’s section – endless loops until I can feel my brain shutting off and nothing more to be gained.

It’s fun to think, as I puttered around with the tourists, how somehow I get to come back the next morning and drive this same section of road in a car that is not remotely street legal. It’s one of the fastest racecars in the world.

And  yet the same rangers that watch with an eagle eyes for a hint of speeding on regular days cheer me on as I rip past them in the racecar at 150MPH.

I love Pikes Peak.

I’m very relaxed at the start line. I’m not always relaxed before a race but I was that day. The universe seems content, the car seems ready, and the team is confident.

That fog from the final day had Rob from RPS a little concerned. You see, the carbon brakes like moisture. So if the humidity goes up the brake rotors and pads absorb the water and it comes out the next time you get the water to boil.

It comes out as steam and creates a frictionless layer between the pads and rotors. Frictionless brakes? What a terrible thought. S0 Rob insisted we run the car at the shop and get the steam out.

Fine idea, except we also managed to get a bunch of steam out of the engine and into the cooling system just as Cody’s vision was blurring as the boost hit (true story) on the private road test run.

That meant only one thing and it wasn’t good. We had at least one blown head gasket. The engine needed to come apart and we needed to be loaded into the mountain at no later than 6PM for the race the next day. At 5:55PM the Enviate rolled through the gates at Pikes Peak – one more miracle added to the long list.

The Moment Of Truth

The light turned green and I was off. The engine felt strong. Grip was good with a touch of new high speed oversteer. Note to self: easy on the rear tires, they have to last. So I back it down a notch from full kill mode and try to keep flowing.

The went by fast. Remember we only test in sections so it feels very different to drive the whole thing when there are people everywhere waving.

This feels special – driving something this fast on a road like this in front of thousands of people.

Through the picnic grounds, foot to the floor. If I got to the shift lights in fourth that would be around 150MPH, which was faster than anyone else that day. Turn after turn. They are all weird and unique. Not like a racetrack. Pikes Peak decided how this road flowed and it feels nothing like a racetrack.

The rhythm is different and better. Less antiseptic more real like The Nurburgring – it isn’t watered down.

In a car that performs like an F1 machine on a normal road, climbing at an alarming rate as I get up past Elk Park, I notice something else climbing at an alarming rate…the oil temp.

I quickly glanced to the left and the rock steady 190 degree water temp was 207. We were in trouble.

My mission has now changed from victory to survival. I had to finish for the team. There had been too much work and too many naysayers – I had to get to the top.

That meant short shifting (not going to redline) and holding throttle in top gear to maximize airflow while minimizing load. Hopefully the engine would stay alive as it transitioned from water cooled to air cooled (something it was never designed to obviously do).

As I cleared the W’s I knew I was getting close. Carving corners and late on the wonderful carbon brakes, trying to balance time loss with reaching the top.

With my super efficiency mode engaged I was trying to carry more speed where I could because it would help airflow and get me to the top faster. But I was almost fired off the mountain at the notoriously bumpy patches just before Cog Cut.

Settle down, re-focus – less than a mile to go.

The mountain wasn’t quite finished with me yet though. One more hairpin. As I exited the lead-up corner and got lined up to brake for Olympic Corner I did my best to keep the engine alive, then go for the brakes. 

As soon as I downshifted the engine died. I released the clutch in second and nothing.  Tried it again in first – nothing. Then the car just stopped. 150 yards from the finish in the middle of the corner.

I hit the starter button and the engine barely turned over. I flipped off the water pumps (air pumps at that point!?) to give the starter more juice and it turned over faster but still won’t fire. 

What to do next?

I am from Colorado and live on a very steep mountain and there have been many times where I have re-fired a car by bump starting it in reverse. Put it in reverse, let off the brake, cranking the wheel so I don’t back off the cliff and GO!

The engine immediately fires, and I stick it in first and blast across the line.

WE… HAVE… DONE… IT!

The underdog car, built in a shop by a guy in a place that has perpetual winter and darkness, has just finished 2nd in an Unlimited class after sitting on the mountain, stalled for over 30 seconds.

The last and final miracle has occurred. Cody Loveland beats the mountain. Or at least it shows what can be done if you have grit and the grace under pressure to stay calm, adapting to whatever comes your way. You simply need the perseverance to see it through to the very top.


Written By: Paul Gerrard, professional racing driver, stunt driver, and author of Optimum Drive. You can follow Paul on Facebook. | Photos courtesy of Dave Liddle.


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