Race Report: Pikes Peak International Hill Climb 2015 - Part 1

Race Report: Pikes Peak International Hill Climb 2015 - Part 1

The dust has finally settled after another intense week in Colorado for the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. As Jeff Clark puts it best, "I spent a month in Colorado last week." This year, we returned to Pikes Peak for the third consecutive time with the three rider team Jeff Clark, Nathan Barker, and Brandon Nozaki Miller, all riding Zero SR Electric Motorcycles.

We arrived in Manitou Springs on Sunday evening, June 21st, so that we could promptly complete Registration on Monday morning and attend the Tech Inspection at the World Arena in Colorado Springs. Tech Inspection is an important part of the week where all the officials make sure the competitor's vehicles are safe and conform to the rules, but it's also a great opportunity to preview all the competitor vehicles prior to race day.

We saw some familiar faces at Tech Inspection, including a few rookies such as the Ohio State University Buckeye Current Racing Team, one of the two teams that would be competing in the Modified Electric Motorcycle Class. Although this would be the first year the Buckeyes would take on PPIHC, they have an impressive track record having finished on the podium the last two years at the Isle Of Man. Unfortunately a mishap at testing the prior week had left them with a lot of work to do leading up to Tech Inspection, including finding a new rider, but their bike was back together and they are in it to win it.

Another familiar face, back for his second year at PPIHC was Yoshihiro Kishimoto of Team Mirai. In 2014, Yoshi-san was racing a custom machine running the circa 2011 dual Agni Motors. The Agnis were a great brushed motor solution back in the day, but after seeing how well our Zero Motorcycle performed he purchased a Zero SR from us earlier this year and used the drivetrain from it to build a new custom race bike, a beautiful bike that was built around what appeared to be a small two-stroke chassis of some kind, or possibly a Moriwaki.

We also ran into Mate Rimac whose Supercar Drivetrain powers Monster Tajima's new race car. If you've never seen Rimac's Concept One, a quick search on YouTube will turn you into a believer. Boasting nearly 1500hp, this four-wheel drive car has four independent motors for adjustable torque vectoring, it was difficult to imagine how Tajima would be able to control such incredible power.

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After Tech Inspection, we headed back to the motel, to get some rest before the first practice day on Tuesday. If you're not familiar with the schedule leading up to race day, let me fill you in. We have to be on the road by 3:00am so we can be on the mountain setup and ready for practice at daybreak, about 5:30am, so that we can be finished with practice by the time the road opens to the public at 8:30am.

For practice, the road is broken up into three sections: the Lower, Middle and Upper. The motorcycles all practice on the same section any given day, however the cars are split into two groups. Our four practice days would have us on the Lower, Middle, Upper, then Lower respectively.

With our First Practice on the Lower Section at about 9,000 feet, this would give us some time to acclimate to the altitude. The thin air winds you quickly and combined with a sleep deficit, altitude sickness is something we have to do our best to manage. The Lower section is the longest of the three sections and runs from the Start Line to Glen Cove, about half of the entire course. This long, high speed section would typically heat up the motor quickly, however the liquid cooled motor on Jeff's bike kept it at a manageable level, and it had plenty of time to cool down between practice runs. Nathan was struggling a bit more with the temperature, but we would go back later to the motel and make some changes to improve the cooling on his motor as well.

Huge thanks to GO Green Mobile Power for doing a great job on the installation of the solar system on our race van. They were an invaluable part of our charging solution during practice days and worked great for quick charging the bikes using our Elcon Quick Chargers.

The Middle Section on the following day is a much more technical section spanning from Glen Cove to Devil's Playground. This section has a set of consecutive switchbacks known as the Ws that quickly take the rider up the side of the mountain. Carrying speed through these perilous corners is both mentally and physically challenging with nothing to stop the rider from falling thousands of feet below. You might recall a mishap last year on this section of the course that sent a bike tumbling down the side of the mountain. Fortunately nobody was seriously injured and we're all able to enjoy the video below thanks to Jeff Grace.

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The Upper Section is my favorite as a spectator. We setup our pits in Devil's Playground where we can see nearly half the road as it winds down past Glen Cove and watch the cars tackle the Middle Section. There is a perfect spot you can watch the cars pull out of the last corner and accelerate up the mountain. It was impressive to watch Rhys Millen and Monster Tajima in their electric cars take off out of the corner.

As the last practice run of the day was nearly through, we prepared to pack up but practice ended abruptly as the red flag went up. We all held our breath waiting to hear what happened and were relieved to hear that Jeff, Nathan and Brandon were safe. However the steadfast silence from the officials regarding the condition of the fallen rider was disconcerting. They held us at Devil's Playground for two hours before releasing us. Later in the day our greatest fear was confirmed as we were notified of the passing of "Hot" Carl Sorensen. This news threw a blight on the week, but by all accounts he died doing what he loved most and would not have had it any other way.

There was a somber tone at Practice on the Lower Section the following day as all of us, especially the many friends of the local fallen rider struggled with the news but we continued through the day. This practice would also serve as Qualifying. For those not familiar with what is meant by Qualifying, this determines the run order on race day with the fastest rider going first on race day. This would reduce the possibility of any rider catching up to the rider in front of them. This is a Time Trial after all, you are racing the mountain and a catching a rider would create an unnecessary and dangerous obstacle. By the end of the day, Jeff had put down the fastest Qualifying time, followed by Brandon, then Nathan.

Friday evening was FanFest and we had a great time in Downtown Colorado Springs showing off the bikes and meeting the fans. It's amazing to see how much the response has changed over the years as the electric motorcycles are no longer a novelty in races likes Pikes Peak. We also were grateful to have Scot Harden and Micah Bayless from Zero Motorcycles join us on Friday and appreciate all their support as we tackle America's Mountain.

Part 2, with Race Day Recap coming soon...

Enjoy the Ride,
Harlan Flagg

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