It’s been an exhausting week as we’ve just returned from our fourth running of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb (PPIHC). For this year’s event, their 100th Anniversary, they accepted only 100 entries total, and come race week there were 98 entries comprised of 35 motorcycles and 63 cars. We felt very privileged to have two of the 35 motorcycle entries, both rookies at PPIHC: Mark Miller, former AMA racer and present day Isle of Man TT & Macau racer, and Marcel Irnie a WERA and AFM racer/Social Media Star.
Our team arrived in Manitou Springs, CO over the weekend. Tech inspection was on Monday, June 20, and this was followed by the rookie orientation, a guided tour of the mountain with former Pikes Peak champ Gary Trachy. Both riders had been studying the road course on their laptops, but this was the first time they’d be seeing it in person. While the riders surveyed the mountain’s race course, we explored it ourselves knowing this would be our only day off as practice began the following day. We brought an extra Zero FXS along and I took the opportunity to ride it up the mountain where I was joined by Tom and Eric, who had driven all the way from LA in his Tesla Model S to lend a hand.
Our first practice on Tuesday had us on the upper section of the mountain, the ~3.5 mile stretch from Devil’s Playground (12,780 ft) to the Finish Line (14,110 ft). Although practice didn’t begin until daybreak, just after 5am, we left the hotel at 3am to make the drive up before they closed the roads to traffic. This is one of the fastest sections of the course and one of the most dangerous. The melting and thawing of the ice leaves the road very bumpy and asphalt patches can be seen where the bumps were too severe.
The riders got 4 practice runs in on this section, and just as they were starting to get comfortable on the course, there was a red flag at about 7am. Practice stopped and everyone patiently waited for the details, hoping the incident was minor in severity. As it turned out, one of the sidecars caught fire and spewed oil all over the road. It would take a large effort to clean the oil, which was of course on the racing line, and this d brought our practice to an early end for the day. We took the extra time to enjoy the view but left a bit disappointed that we did not get more runs in. At least we knew we would be return to practice that section on Thursday.
Wednesday Practice had us on the middle section from Glen Cove to Devil’s Playground. This is the most technical section of the course with the switchbacks known as the W’s. The riders took to this section very well and as the recorded times show, only the high hp machines, mostly liter bikes were faster in this section. Mark was the 6th fastest overall and Marcel in 9th, 2nd and 3rd in class respectively. It was pretty cool to see a little electric bike like the Zero FXS keeping up with these gasoline powered monsters!
Thursday Practice had us back on the upper section at Devil’s Playground. We had been dialing in the bikes all week but this would be our first time to test our biggest change yet, Metzler SM tires in place of the Diablo Supercorsas we were used to running. The Metzlers are slicks with a much lower operating temperature, and we had been struggling to keep the tires warm enough all week. This change ended up a huge improvement giving the riders much more confidence through the many corners. The riders took to this section well and once again, they kept up with the big bore bikes with the recorded times showing Mark and Marcel as the 6th and 9th fastest overall, 2nd and 3rd in class respectively.
Friday Practice was at the bottom section. Not only is this the longest section, covering about 6 miles of the course, this would also serve as Qualifying to determine the run order on Sunday. Although this section is not as technical, the shear length of this section made it a little more difficult for the riders to learn and it also limited the number of practice runs. After only 3 practice runs, this placed Mark 16th overall and Marcel 19th, 3rd and 4th in class respectively.
With Don Canet’s large lead in the electric class, our competition would be Kishimoto with Mirai and possibly Rob Barber with the Buckeye Current Team, although it was tough to say at this point as the team was still working through a few problems with their bike with Rob actually practicing the course on a gas bike.
Friday night was Fan Fest in Downtown Colorado Springs. There was a great turnout and the riders, the team, and I, all enjoyed meeting everyone who stopped by to say hi. We even had two Zero riders who traveled great distances to see us: Ben Rich rode his Zero all the way from New Jersey and Darwood Martin from Arizona.
Saturday we made our final preparations for raceday. We dropped the van and bikes off at the pits before heading back to town for an early dinner. Up at 1am, there was some light drizzle as we made our way to the mountain. A long line of dedicated spectators patiently waited their turn as they let the competitors up the mountain. We set up the bikes and rested a short while before the 6am rider’s meeting preceding the 8am race start.
As 8am approached, the weather was perfect, but the road conditions far from ideal. The rain from the night before had left the roads wet and icy on the upper section and the start was delayed as we hoped the sun and wind would dry our race track. The slicks we were running needed dry roads to be effective and stay warm and sticky. We nervously awaited updates expecting to leave the start line at any minute.
At 8:35am they gave us a 10 minute warning and we checked our tire pressure and temps one last time before they started sending the riders off. Our riders were #3 and #4 in the run order as the electric motorcycle class would be the first of the day. As our turn came up, we pulled the warmers off Mark’s bike and sent him off the start line, followed by Marcel. We anxiously watched the Timing Board to follow their progress up the mountain.
The first split time showed Mark pull one second ahead of Kishimoto, the 2nd fastest qualifying bike. By the second split time at Glen Cove, Kishimoto had made up some time and was now leading Mark by a second. No times showed for Rob Barber by Glen Cove which had the Buckeye team panicking hoping for a transponder issue and not a crash. Without knowing Barber’s times, we hoped Marcel could stay ahead of him to take fourth place.
The third split time at Devil’s Playground showed that Mark was now leading Kishimoto by a couple of seconds. All Mark had to do was match Kishimoto’s time and he’d have him beat. We continued to watch the timing board, certain Mark would come out on top. As the final time posted, Mark with a 11:20.448, we all stood shocked as we saw Kishimoto had beaten Mark by nearly 10 seconds with 11:10.480 and Marcel with 11:31.326.
Although Mark’s time was nearly 40 seconds faster than our previous record, it was disappointing that the road conditions had compromised his run and his chance at a podium finish. But, as they say, “that’s racing”.
We would later come to find out that Mark had tucked the front end, low siding the bike on a tight turn up at Devil’s Playground. Luckily he was uninjured and hopped back on the bike to finish the race, but the time slowed him down enough that he fell behind Kishimoto and Rob Barber as well.
Considering that this year out of 100 competitors, only 79 finished the race, it is impressive to know that in the last four years, we’ve fielded 12 bikes and every single one has finished the race. As it turns out, our Zero FXS bikes are also the fastest two Production Electric Vehicles to ever finish the race, beating out a Tesla Model S P90D which finished this year in 11:48.264.
I’d like to thank the racers, Mark Miller and Marcel Irnie, our crew chief Bobby Loo, social media guru Thomas Ito, and everyone else that chipped in, especially Jeff Clark, JJ Matter, Ryan Matter, Oscar Solis, Eric Barkalow, Oana Bogdan, and Jessica Johnson.
Last but certainly not least, this wouldn’t have been possible without the support of our sponsors. They are the best at what they do and we highly recommend them: Zero Motorcycles, GP Suspension, Blik Surface Graphics, Black Bike Wheels, CoreMoto, Cycle Brakes, & Mo Eyewear.
Enjoy the Ride,
Watch Mark Miller’s full run!