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Every year, the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb racing event (aka the Race to the Clouds) occurs on the last weekend in June. This is the 100th anniversary of the event, with past winners including a list of Who's Who in the racing world, including Mario Andretti, Romain Dumas (more on him later), the Unsers and for the last few years, a number of EV teams have attacked the mountain.

The week leading up to the race is packed with activities, kicking off with Tech Inspections on Monday, qualifying runs Tue-Fri, Fan Fest on Friday evening, and the race itself on Sunday. Compared to many auto racing venues, the PPIHC is far less stringent, allowing a lot of technical things go, and creating an opportunity for teams to design cars optimally for the course.

The course itself is a very challenging one, with 12.42 miles, 156 turns, and an altitude climb of over 4,700FT to the 14,115 foot summit, with grades averaging 7.2%. Mario Andretti won his class in 1969 (same year he won the Indy 500), and was quoted as saying: “After winning, I swore I’d never return,” Andretti said. “I had to take too many risks to win, everything had to go perfectly, and it was just too dangerous.”

A neighbor of mine, and member of our local Colorado Springs EV Club (CSEVC.com) has driven a Porsche 911 RSR on 7 occasions, winning in his class a few times. About 5 years ago, Zero Motorcycles approached Chris to see if he would be interested in converting his car to an EV powered one. Chris eagerly accepted the challenge, because he had concluded that he had effectively reached the end of the road of possibilities to improve his 10 minute plus course times without diving into expensive turbo charging equipment. He also shared that he was having to replace the engine annually to remain competitive, so costs were mounting. The Zero deal therefore offered the possibility to achieve sub 10 minute times, and financial backing, clearly a winning proposition!

Today, at our monthly "Last Saturday" car show which we share a venue with about 100+ gear heads, Chris brought his car to the event and gathered the attention of EV owners, and Gear Heads alike. He spent over 3 hours talking with folks about his experiences running the race, the conversion process, the last few challenges he and Zero are trying to tackle, and his expectations of a sub 10 minute run next year. The car was on full display, some photos can be seen in an album I created. The 8 Zero motors are arranged in an X formation (he calls it his X8 Engine) with Gates drive belts used to transfer power to the single drive shaft, which in turn is connected to the stock Porsche drivetrain and 5 speed manual transmission. The remaining challenge is that the torque from these motors is so powerful that he is shredding drive belts. The solution seems to be a more effective motor mounting bracket system to eliminate the torque twisting of the motors which is shredding the belts. Once this is resolved, Chris is hopeful to be running again next year.

The original EV conversion put 6 Zero motors inline, in a 2x3 arrangement. With this configuration, Chris was able to run in the 2019 race, but inclement weather at the top of the mountain (snow... in June ... not uncommon on Pikes Peak) restricted the later running drivers to the bottom half of the mountain. While his time was second in class, he lost second place to Randy Probst (more on him in a minute) in a Tesla Model 3 tricked out by the folks at Unplugged Performance. Apparently, rules state that completing the course to the top wins a few extra points, so while his time to the halfway point was a few seconds faster than Probst, he lost points because Randy was able to run all the way to the top a few minutes before the committee closed the top end of the course.

At yesterday's Fan Fest, myself and a few CSEVC members, and a guest from the Sacramento EV Club performed some volunteer work at the "Fast 15" Exhibit sponsored by Optima Batteries. Our duties included crowd control and monitoring supplies for the autograph and interview sessions for the top 15 qualifiers, including Randy Probst who came in with the 13th fastest qualifying run in his Unplugged Performance Tesla Model S Plaid. At this venue, I was able to spend time talking to Randy about the course conditions and his experience in the qualification runs this year. For race fans, you may be aware this is the 5th year Randy and UP are running the race in Teslas, and he has crashed twice in previous years. Interestingly, his crash videos are a highlight for many fans, and he has gained notoriety as a result. Randy told me that the Devil's Playground and Bottomless Pit sections, while some repairs were made since his 2020 infamous crash, are still pretty rough. He blew out a tire this year in qualification runs, but is confident he will finish this year. BTW, spoiler alert: Randy and the UP team, and the Tesla engineers were able to make the repairs following the dramatic crash in the above linked video in 2 days, with the help of some donated parts from local Tesla owners. Interestingly, of all 15 top qualifiers, Randy had more people lined up for autographs than any other driver.

Randy has a half dozen Tesla engineers, as well as 8-10 Unplugged Performance engineers on his crew team, I also had the opportunity to talk with many of them.

The course record is held by Romain Dumas, a Frenchman driving a VW ID.R EV prototype in 2018. This video of his run captures both the specter reactions, and difficulty of the course. A little known piece of information Chris Lennon shared with me today is that when Dumas puled into the pit area at the top, the batteries on the ID.R shutdown, in a testament to German Engineering, they provided him with just enough capacity to reach the summit in record time, with nothing to spare.

One last observation: The PPIHC race teams are super friendly both with other teams, and with fans. All of the drivers were in attendance at Fan Fest, interacting with more than 30K fans at the event. Drivers from Europe, Japan, Australia and the US were eager to talk to folks. All of the drivers know each other, and rely on the local drivers with more experience on the course for tips on how to negotiate sections of the course. In short, if you are a race fan, and enjoy interacting with the stars of the sport, this is the place to be.
 
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