Despite tightening the safety rules again this year, Pikes Peak once more saw a couple of heart-stopping car crashes. Jeremy Foley’s crash at Devil’s Playground was nothing short of unbelievable.
Often, when driving along a mountain road on holiday, cautiously taking each bend as carefully as possible, I have often peered over the edge and found myself fearing what might happen if I was to get a corner wrong and go over the edge. The racers at the Pikes Peak Hill Climb throw such caution to the wind and just drive as fast and hard as they can.
Unfortunately, this year, Jeremy Foley and his co-driver Yuri Kouznetsov did get a corner wrong. They got it very wrong indeed and overshot the bend, tumbling over and over whilst shedding virtually every piece of the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX as it smashed itself to bits down the rocky mountainside.
Fortunately both Foley and Kouznetsov survived and only suffered fairly minor injuries. They were both airlifted to hospital from the race but have both since been released. It is a testament to how well built modern motor sport cars really are and that the PPIHC regulations are sufficient to protect a driver even in such an extreme crash.
This isn’t something new for Pikes Peak as in it’s 96 year history it has seen some incredible drivers lose the road from beneath their tyres. The first Pikes Peak Hill Climb was introduced following the completion of the newly widened Pikes Peak Highway in 1916 and was used to promote the road to tourists with a race to the clouds. The summit is just over 14,000 feet above sea level, which, to put it into perspective, is high enough for the US Army to base an altitude training and research centre there. At the Goodwood Festival of Speed, the famous Hill Climb event really does go up a bit of a hill. The Pikes Peak Hill Climb is dangerously understated as a name for a race. The word ‘Hill’ just doesn’t do it justice. In 1820, 14 years after the mountain’s discovery and following in the footsteps of many who had failed before him, a young climber called Edwin James finally struggled to the summit. Who would have thought that just less than a hundred years later people would be racing motor vehicles up the same mountain and referring to it as a hill.
The 2012 running of the Pikes Peak Hill Climb saw a large change to the race as it was the first year where the route was covered with tarmac throughout it’s entire length. It is something which had very much divided opinion about the race. While some were happy at the increased grip and that the faster speed would see the current records get smashed, others, such as previous Hill Climb champion Rod Millen think that the paved road will ultimately put an end to the race.
It certainly remains one of the most challenging race events in the world. Over it’s 12 mile course, 153 corners take the drivers and cars rapidly up to a place where the low oxygen steals power from the engines and drivers alike. There are few limits on what can be included in the race and you would be as likely to see a motorbike and sidecar competing as you would a 1000hp full-on race car. There are few limits imposed on the crowd either with them lining the roadside trying to get as close as possible to the action. With 170 entries this year taking on the challenge of the incredibly testing route, it is almost inevitable that a few drivers will make an error or that a car will suffer a serious technical issue.
Such a technical issue occurred to Paul Dallenback, who was one of the drivers in with a shout of winning overall, when his throttle stuck on. As his car was a 1400hp unlimited-class race car the fault sent him off the circuit and flying into trees at over 130mph. Dallenback wasn’t seriously injured but later tweeted: “Nothing left of the car…. but today was not my day to go. I am very sore.”
Despite these crashes the one thing that you can be pretty sure of is that it won’t put these drivers off running in the event again. They will be back next year trying to go faster and faster.
Records for the race did fall throughout the day and ultimately the current champion, Rhys Millen, beat last year’s time by completing the course in 9 min 46.164 secs in a 700 hp turbocharged Hyundai Genesis coupe.
Photo of Evo crash aftermath: granthughes (specialstage.com/forums/)