Welcome, TopGear.commers, to the 90th running of Pikes Peak International Hillclimb. Having ingested bacon you can read through and battled with minor altitude sickness (the race is held a staggering three miles above sea level), we can report that the delayed, all-tarmac course has been well and truly broken in by this year’s competitors.
And it looks like 2012 is the year of the electric vehicle. Eleven EVs have joined the fray, including the Monster Sport E-Runner, driven by reigning King of the Hill, “Monster” Tajima, who looks set to best his own 9:51 record.
There’s sound science behind going electric, y’see. Between the start and finish there’s a 4720 foot elevation gain and a colossal drop in air pressure, which means competitors using a petrol engine have to compromise their fuelling setup - optimise the car for the top section of the hill and it won’t run properly at the bottom, and vice versa. An EV, though, doesn’t suffer from the altitude, and will run just as well at the bottom as it will at the top.
That said, there is one small niggle: cooling. Racing EV motors get mighty hot, and many of them rely on water for cooling. Thing is, as you wind up the hill here, the atmosphere changes so much that the boiling point of water reduces. Near the top when the motor’s thoroughly warmed through, it drops to around 82 degrees Celsius, so there’s a risk the cars will get a bit… explodey. Then there’s the charging issue; Monster’s car only runs for 12 minutes after a full night plugged in.
As well as the EVs, there’s another big coup at this year’s race - the whole thing’s paved. While this means a departure for giant great big rooster tails of dust, it allows some very cool, very low cars to compete without the risk of bottoming out every two yards, like the 911 GT3-R driven by official Porsche and Audi works driver, Romain Dumas. Times to the summit should also be whittled down, as competitors are allowed to run slick tyres - the only requirement is a single groove, as you’d find on most DOT-legal slicks.
Now click on for more pics from practice, and check back soon to learn more about the different classes at this year’s event.