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Meet the Legends of Pikes Peak

  1. 25 years ago, Walter Rohrl plotted an incredibly sideways course through 156 turns to the 4,301 metre summit of the legendary Pikes Peak hillclimb. And back in 1987 there wasn’t a whiff of tarmac in sight.

    Which meant that, should Audi have provided you with truly epic 600bhp, 1000kg Sport Quattro, balloon-sized manparts were required. Especially if you managed to climb the course in a then-record-breaking 10:47:85. Even more especially when there wasn’t a single guardrail.

    Rohrl says: “I had no experience. I arrived five days before the start. I rented a car and drove up with my wife. The speed limit was 30 miles per hour. I went up and down, trying to memorize the road. It was not easy. There were no trees.”

    Ari Vatanen, Peugeot’s Finnish rally ace, was also at the ‘87 event, and when Röhrl spoke to him before - bearing in mind the French firm had rented the hill for a week before - he said it was an utterly confounding course. Röhrl recalls: “He said he had driven it 50 times and he still was not sure”.

    Watch his incredible run here

  2. Last year, 1132 miles away from Pikes Peak’s start line, a bloke called Jeff left the Porsche Performance Centre in California wearing a 911 GT2RS and pointed it towards Colorado.

    His scheme was to continue Porsche’s tradition of driving cars to circuits, racing them, then driving them home. Taking on the Race to the Clouds in a standard car (albeit with the necessary modifications to meet basic safety regs), then, seemed a perfectly natural extension of the ritual…

    He’s a handy bloke is Jeff - he dominated the 2WD Time Attack the previous year, so it was no surprise that he destroyed the Pikes Peak record for stock production cars with his road trip-fresh 911. And his time of 11:07.869 bested his previous attempt in a Porsche 911 GT3 Cup race car by 24 seconds.

    His run was only topped by Rod Millen on the day - he beat Zwart by just three seconds driving a fully-prepped racer making more than 700 horsepower.

    Watch his run here

  3. If you’ve not seen the Greatest Car-Based Film That’s Not Top Gear, you should really click on these blue words.

    And if you have, and have ever wondered who the hell was born with big enough he-bits to spank a Peugeot 405 T16 with such valiant malice up a very steep bit of Colorado, we’ll tell you - it’s Ari Vatanen.

    But what on earth were a Finnish rally driver and a French Group B-era turbo death catcher doing in the middle of America? In 1987 Peugeot wanted a bit of PR in the USA and resolved to conquer the legendary hillclimb. Which they very nearly did, first time out. Alas, a broken turbo hose scuppered the inaugural attempt - handing victory to Walter Rohrl - so it had to wait to the following year and the 405 Turbo 16.

    He says: “Pikes Peak is the absolute ultimate race. Fantastic in a car that accelerates from 0 to 200kph in less than ten seconds, weighs only 900 kilos and has 600bhp, four-wheel-drive and four-wheel-steering. It’s the ultimate - nothing else comes close in the sporting aspect.

    “You’re on your own in the car and there’s just that one attempt to go the whole way. In practice you’re only allowed to cover one third of the climb at a time and in qualifying it’s half the distance. So that creates a special pressure and conquering it just gives a fantastic feeling. We should live our lives as passionately as we drive up Pikes Peak.”

  4. He’s not called Monster in that ironic Little John sort of way - the man is quite literally a legendary animal. As well as establishing Suzuki’s in-house motorsport division, Suzuki Sport, he’s the only man that’s broken the 10-minute barrier up the hill, earning himself the title of fastest man in the history of the race.

    He’s also been racing at Pikes since 1988, piloting everything from a Suzuki Vitara to a full-blown SX4 racer. Oh, and he’s won every single event since 2006…

    It might seem weird, then, that that the reigning champion will be taking an EV up the hill this year. But Monster’s keen to extol the virtues of electric cars. As a more mature racer - 62, to be precise - he also wants people over 50 years old to live more active, happy lives. Awww.

    There are less cerebral reasons for taking an EV too - because air pressure drops so much up the course, there are no performance decreases for the four-wheel drive racer.

    You can watch last year’s run here. Watch out for the terrified bee.

  5. If Monster is King of the Hill, Michèle Mouton is the Queen.

    The Frenchwoman was the first - and remains the only - female to have won a round of the FIA World Rally Championship. She’s also pretty handy at bombing up large, Coloradoan landforms. So much so, she won Pikes Peak in 1985 on her second attempt with her Audi Sport Quattro.

    She battled through a hailstorm to beat Al Unser Jr.’s 1982 record by thirteen seconds. This made some of her male competitors angry. Very angry. She responded by telling them, “If you have the balls, you can try to race me back down as well.” Talk about sticking it to the (wo)man.

    PUB FACT: Michèle believes that her background in dancing actually helped her rallying in the 1970s and 80s. She compared her car moving on gravel with that of a dancer’s move. So, Internet, if you want to be a good rallyist, all you need to do is be good at the Cha Cha Slide.

  6. There’s one family who know their way up Pikes Peak like no others: the Unsers. They’re the Kardashians of hill climbing as they’ve got more than two dozen Pikes Peak victories under their belt, with “Old Man of the Mountain”, Louis Jr., being the most successful Unser with nine victories.

    Why are they so good at it? Well, they grew up at the bottom of the mountain and the three young boys, Louis Jr., Joe and Jerry were the first people to scale Pikes Peak in 1915 with the help of a motorbike and sidecar - something that was previously hailed as impossible.

    When wealthy hotelier, Spencer Penrose, setup the first “Race to the Clouds” the Unser boys entered and started a wave of Unser engravings on the trophy.

    Since then, the family has had four generations compete in the race. Most notably Bobby Unser’s daughter, Jeri , who was named the race’s Rookie of the Year in 1998 and later, in 2003, set a record for electric-powered vehicles - something that Mr. Tajima is fighting for this year.

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