After months of planning, work and preparations the 2012 Pikes Peak International Hillclimb is now in the books. What an absolutely amazing event to be a part of. I don’t think it is possible to have a more humbling location for a race. The Colorado Rockies can really put some perspective on how small we are in the grand scheme of things.
My race week adventure kicked off with tech inspection on Tuesday morning. Tech this year was held at Pikes Peak International Raceway a few miles South of Co. Springs, CO. The organization for the race does a great job in working the large amount of cars and bikes quickly and efficiently through the tech lines. After going through the tech sheet multiple times on my own before I showed up for tech it was a breeze to roll right through to have my bike approved for the race. After tech we quickly packed everything back in the van and headed towards the mountain to get our first look this year. We took our time driving up the mountain, studying the changes to the road since last year. The biggest change since last year was the completion of the paving up the mountain. Last year there were still 3.5 miles of dirt in the middle section of the mountain. All I could think or describe it as I looked at it was, “This year is going to be fast”. We took advantage of our extra time and wanted to grab a few quick pictures of the bike at the top of the mountain and include some of the epic scenery. That ended up taking much longer than our group thought it would take. As soon as the bike rolled out of the van curious visitors on the mountain wanted pictures and to ask questions about the race. It turned out to be a really cool and fun experience.
Wednesday morning brought the first day of practice. Practice is held in the morning on the mountain and we are done with everything by the time they open the road back up to the general public each day. What that means, though, is the competitors have to be at the entrance to file up the mountain at 4am each day. The mountain and competitors are split into thirds for practice and each group practices a different section of the mountain each day. The motorcycle classes started in the middle of the mountain this year. I was actually dreading starting in that section. Our start line for that section is just below tree line (10,000ft) and we quickly get above it. Mentally, it is a tough section with a good mix of fast 80+ mph corners and tight 1st gear 180s. But the breathtaking drops off the edge of the road line nearly this whole section, which is where my reservation for starting in this section came from. We started at dawn with a ½ speed run through the section to work into building speed. I felt good all morning as I just started clicking off runs trying to memorize the corners. I was able to put down the 6th fastest time in my class on the first day and I was happy with that. I was a little tall on my gearing and I knew if I dropped a tooth it would help me getting out of the tight 180’s.
The second day of practice was up on top. Our pit parking area was in a section on the mountain called Devil’s Playground. Sounds like a place everyone would want to ride from, huh? The start line for that section was right around 12,000ft so the air is notably thinner. The upper section only has a handful of slower corners but a lot of high speed 4th and 5th gear ones. I had a good morning on the top and ended up running the 7th fastest time in my class.
Friday brought the final morning of practice and qualifying for our start order. The bottom section starts at just over 9,000ft in elevation and is lined with trees, much different than what you see in the upper sections. I felt good all morning learning the road and building speed. I did have a 4th gear excursion off the road into a ditch but I was able to keep the bike under control and get back on the road to continue that run up the section. I felt I had put good times in up the section and was quite dishearten when I found out I had qualified 12th in my class. But race day is much different than practice.
Race day once again brought an early morning on the mountain so that all the competitors can park before the spectators can enter. As soon as our group was parked we immediately unloaded and started the generator to get the tire warmers on the bike. The morning temp was in the lower 40s so we knew it would take a while to get some heat in the tires. Once the thousands of spectators had filed in the officials closed the road and got it all set to go. The first class stated off at 9am and the 450s weren’t far behind. Race day is totally different than any of the practice days. There are no warm ups or any viewing of the mountain before we get the green flag. It is a one shot deal to lay down your best time and see what you can do. It was my turn to roll up to the line a little before 10am. I said a quick prayer and next thing I know I am clicking 5th gear with my head down. The spectators line the road like you would see at a rally car race, cheering each competitor as they go by. The spectators also bring new challenges because a landmark or feature you had mentally noted as a marker for a braking point or where to get on the gas may be covered by the mass amount of people. So as a rider you have to trust your memory of what is around each corner. I had a great run all the way up the mountain. I had a few mistakes in the middle section but I felt I had a good time. Once at the top I scrambled to find someone that had the results. I was elated to find out I had placed 7th in the 450cc class with a time of 11:28.056 (nearly 1:20 faster than last year’s time). All week my class was the tightest, most competitive group. As I studied the results I would have finished 3rd in the 750cc class and 4th in the 1200cc class. It goes to show how hard my whole class was pushing the edge.
Now that I am back home and writing this report I look back at another amazing experience at Pikes Peak. While I am very happy with my performance I know I can do better and go faster deep down, and that fuels my desire to go back again. Thank you to all my friends, sponsors and especially my family for supporting me through this amazing event.
Thanks for your support,
Following is Chase’s helmet cam footage for the event. Click on run to view footage.