The most startling part of Pikes Peak? The way down

David S.
By David S. Wallens
Nov 10, 2022 | BimmerWorld, Pikes Peak, Bergsteiger, David Donohue, Pikes Peak International Hillclimb, Robin Shute | Posted in News and Notes | From the Oct. 2022 issue | Never miss an article

Photography Credit: Kevin Adolf

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Sure, the drive up Pikes Peak at full speed is harrowing, but the ride down can even be worse. “It’s terrifying,” quips BimmerWorld’s James Clay, now a four-time entrant. 

The race up, he explains, is somewhat predictable. Most classes allow tire warmers, and the schedule typically delivers the most favorable track conditions to the faster qualifiers.

BimmerWorld returned to Pikes Peak with the Bergsteiger, the team’s radical BMW M3. As driver James Clay tells us, the trip down can be just as exciting as the drive up. Photography Credit: Kevin Adolf

But once at the top of the mountain, 14,115 feet above sea level, drivers must wait until the end of the day to descend. By then, temperatures near the summit have likely plummeted–snow and ice aren’t out of the ordinary–while the slicks the cars wear have cooled to ambient. The road up doubles as the road down and, even at the relatively slow return pace, traction can be nonexistent.

Unlike last year, however, drivers at the 2022 Broadmoor Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, brought to you by Gran Turismo, got to run the full 12.42-mile, 156-turn course. And despite half a foot of snow falling the day before the big show, the road was clear by race time–though it remained wet in places. “It was wet, and variably wet,” James notes. And there was fog, too, especially near the top. 

[56k stay away: All the Pikes Peak Hill Climb photos, right from the side of the hill]

Rod Millen ran the Toyota Tacoma that he drove to overall wins back in 1998 and 1999, finishing eighth overall this time. Photography Credit: Stephanie Urso

Robin Shute, last year’s champ, repeated to take the overall win–his third title–in his Wolf single-seater. David Donner, another Pikes Peak regular, took second place in a new Porsche 911 Turbo S. The gap between the top two finishers: some 24.5 seconds. Finishing third overall was David Donohue, another regular, in a Porsche GT2 RS Clubsport. 

James again drove the Bergsteiger, his shop’s take on the E36-chassis BMW M3. Before this year’s Pikes Peak, it received some revision: new suspension, new aero, new bodywork and new retro graphics. Despite the weather and the fact that it’s tough to sort a car for an event unlike any other, James piloted it to second in the Pikes Peak Open class and 11th overall.

[Meet the Bergsteiger, BimmerWorld's 1000-plus horsepower E36-chassis BMW M3 Pikes Peak racer]

Robin Shute took top honors for the third time in his Wolf single-seater. Photography Credit: Rupert Berrington

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Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
8/10/22 12:10 p.m.

From what I recall, the trip down for the racers is at almost a walking pace. Tire temp probably doesn't come into it much :)

For spectators, it's a parking lot on the way down because the exit road is basically closed while all the racers futz around in the pits. Takes hours.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯
¯\_(ツ)_/¯ UltimaDork
8/10/22 12:20 p.m.

kb58
kb58 SuperDork
8/10/22 12:59 p.m.

Regarding the trip down, there's no timing, no consequence of not being "first", and probably a whole lot of consequence to breaking your team's car for no reason whatsoever.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
8/10/22 3:51 p.m.

So, a PS to this.

This past weekend, I chatted with a good friend–another Pikes Peak regular. 

So I asked about the trip down. Is it really that bad? 

Oh heck yes!

Doesn't matter how slow you're going, cold slicks will not stick to ice/sleet/hail/etc.

He said that one year he nearly slid off the first turn on the way down–and this is while going at like walking pace.

But he saw a friend up ahead, another Pikes Peak regular, and he was inching along. So, my friend figured, it was safe to continue. 

Together they inched down through nearly zero-traction conditions.

Once at the bottom, they chatted. It went something like this:

"Dude, I didn't think I had enough traction to drive down, but I saw you up ahead so I figured we had enough."

"Dude, I didn't think I had enough traction to drive down, but I saw you behind me so I figured we had enough."

Pete. (l33t FS)
Pete. (l33t FS) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
8/10/22 3:56 p.m.
kb58 said:

Regarding the trip down, there's no timing, no consequence of not being "first", and probably a whole lot of consequence to breaking your team's car for no reason whatsoever.

What if you just want to get a little extra sleep before school after you make a delivery for your lazy old man?

kb58
kb58 SuperDork
8/10/22 4:12 p.m.

I'm confused by this: "...cold slicks will not stick to ice/sleet/hail/etc."

If cold slicks don't stick on the way down, how would they stick on the way up? Them being hot can't possibly melt it in the milliseconds that they're in contact.

Now, if that ice/sleet/hail formed after their run up, then yes, that could be a big deal.

stuart in mn
stuart in mn MegaDork
8/10/22 5:14 p.m.

I recall reading a story from sometime back in the early 1960s, where a couple drivers in stock US full size cars (it may have been one of the Unsers and someone else) raced each other down the mountain while coasting with their engines off.

calteg
calteg SuperDork
8/10/22 5:41 p.m.

I have nothing to add except our brakes briefly caught fire on the way down when we spectated at Pike's in pre-COVID times. There were about 8 of us in a GX470. We were "driving" at about a walking pace, but the grade forces you to be on the brakes basically 100% of the time.

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
8/10/22 5:48 p.m.

In reply to calteg :

Agreed, I was overheating the brakes on the Vanagon at about 0.5 mph.

kb58
kb58 SuperDork
8/10/22 5:51 p.m.

So if you drive a Tesla down the mountain, your battery would be charged to about 1200% by the bottom...

Pete. (l33t FS)
Pete. (l33t FS) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
8/10/22 5:57 p.m.
Keith Tanner said:

In reply to calteg :

Agreed, I was overheating the brakes on the Vanagon at about 0.5 mph.

Bicycle braking strategy:  Coast up to speed and brake firmly to a slow speed, then coast up again.  The brakes run a lot cooler this way compared to maintaining a low speed, which on a bike can blow a tire off the rim.  (Do people even run tubulars anymore?  Those are a special level of hell when they overheat and the tire glue softens)

 

Difficulty: Used to ride a tandem with caliper brakes, and no fancy rear drum brake like I really wished we had.

racerfink
racerfink UberDork
8/10/22 8:40 p.m.
kb58 said:

I'm confused by this: "...cold slicks will not stick to ice/sleet/hail/etc."

If cold slicks don't stick on the way down, how would they stick on the way up? Them being hot can't possibly melt it in the milliseconds that they're in contact.

Now, if that ice/sleet/hail formed after their run up, then yes, that could be a big deal.

Tire warmers and favorable time of day help a lot going up.  You have neither of those going down, and the tires have been sitting, sometimes in freezing temps, for at least an hour.

therieldeal
therieldeal Reader
8/11/22 8:26 a.m.
Pete. (l33t FS) said:
Keith Tanner said:

In reply to calteg :

Agreed, I was overheating the brakes on the Vanagon at about 0.5 mph.

Bicycle braking strategy:  Coast up to speed and brake firmly to a slow speed, then coast up again.  The brakes run a lot cooler this way compared to maintaining a low speed, which on a bike can blow a tire off the rim.  (Do people even run tubulars anymore?  Those are a special level of hell when they overheat and the tire glue softens)

 

Difficulty: Used to ride a tandem with caliper brakes, and no fancy rear drum brake like I really wished we had.

This is the strategery I've used in street cars for both for Pikes Peak and Mt Washington, along with staying in 1st gear most of the way down.  Never had any problems with brakes overheating.  I will say it's somewhat difficult to maintain this braking strategy if you end up behind someone who's riding their brakes, and/or with a tailgater behind you.  I generally used those situations to stop briefly at the next parking area.

On one car I did end up sucking a bunch of oil into the engine due to constant engine braking with worn rings & valve stem seals.  That thing laid down a smoke screen for about 5 minutes after I reached the bottom ... oops.

 

 

bmw88rider
bmw88rider GRM+ Memberand UberDork
8/11/22 9:11 a.m.

It's a real thing to have sleet or snow on the way down. 2 out of the 3 times I've been there, that has happened.

I was talking about it to Randy Pobst one of those times when he was driving the SRT Charger. It was a year where there was a large delay and the top had thunder snowstorm so they only ran half the mountain for the final cars. They brought the finishers down to right above the brake check hut. It was crazy hearing him talk about it because I never even thought about it. 

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
8/11/22 11:52 a.m.
therieldeal said:
Pete. (l33t FS) said:
Keith Tanner said:

In reply to calteg :

Agreed, I was overheating the brakes on the Vanagon at about 0.5 mph.

Bicycle braking strategy:  Coast up to speed and brake firmly to a slow speed, then coast up again.  The brakes run a lot cooler this way compared to maintaining a low speed, which on a bike can blow a tire off the rim.  (Do people even run tubulars anymore?  Those are a special level of hell when they overheat and the tire glue softens)

 

Difficulty: Used to ride a tandem with caliper brakes, and no fancy rear drum brake like I really wished we had.

This is the strategery I've used in street cars for both for Pikes Peak and Mt Washington, along with staying in 1st gear most of the way down.  Never had any problems with brakes overheating.  I will say it's somewhat difficult to maintain this braking strategy if you end up behind someone who's riding their brakes, and/or with a tailgater behind you.  I generally used those situations to stop briefly at the next parking area.

On one car I did end up sucking a bunch of oil into the engine due to constant engine braking with worn rings & valve stem seals.  That thing laid down a smoke screen for about 5 minutes after I reached the bottom ... oops.

 

 

Staying in 1st only works if that's slow enough. The entire population of the mountain is nose to tail going down the hill so you have both someone running slow in front of you and a tailgater behind you. There aren't a lot of pull off areas that aren't full of cars, and the way the parking lots are packed in simply staying in place isn't really an option because then you're blocking other people. Although I think next time I'd find somewhere to come to a stop, pop the top and make dinner while I waited for the jam to clear.

volvoclearinghouse
volvoclearinghouse PowerDork
8/11/22 11:57 a.m.

I was taking a leisurely drive down the Peak a few months back in a rental Chevy Traverse.  I used the +/- buttons to hold gears and had to use the brakes fairly little.  Unfortunately, I got stuck behind a Chrysler minivan who literally rode the brakes for MILES.  Eventually he pulled off, the brakes stinking to high heaven.  Lots of folks nowadays have no concept of gearing down for grades.  :-/

SSpiffy
SSpiffy New Reader
11/10/22 5:27 p.m.

On my drive back to Seattle from Chicago in September I took the scenic route and drove up Pikes Peak in my Honda Clarity PHEV. I got back all the electrons I used going up coming back down, and then some! I started at the bottom with 166 miles combined range left, got to the top 19 miles later (I didn't take readings at the entrance, but a few miles before) with 127 miles range and got back to the bottom with 170 miles.

I've always thought racing up the mountain would be fun; after driving up at relatively sedate speeds, my mind has been changed. The pucker factor of trying to race up it is beyond my sphincter's capability.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
11/11/22 11:15 a.m.

Several years ago, we happened to run into an old friend at the hill climb–neither knew the other was going, and we both happened to pick the same place to park.

One issue: He was nearly out of gas, so he wound up coasting much of the way down after the race. (He and the car lived.)

kb58
kb58 UltraDork
11/11/22 11:57 a.m.
SSpiffy said:

...I started at the bottom with 166 miles combined range left, got to the top 19 miles later (I didn't take readings at the entrance, but a few miles before) with 127 miles range and got back to the bottom with 170 miles...

So if we have a never-ending stream of EVs going up the hill, re-generating on the way back down, and back-feeding their power back into the power grid, and we have limitless energy! Far more likely, the EV reported skewed data - that, or you discovered perpetual motion.

MotorsportsGordon
MotorsportsGordon Dork
11/11/22 3:09 p.m.

Well the scary part is that side service road that looks like your going off the cliff. Especially if your a passenger in a car getting pranked by Bobby Unser and parnelli jones at night.

KyAllroad
KyAllroad MegaDork
11/11/22 4:42 p.m.

Brakes have gotten so much better in the last 30 years.    In 1987 we took a 1985 Dodge Caravan up and down Mt. Washington and basically nuked the brakes.

A couple years ago I took a 2012 Caravan up and down (equal load) and while I managed the brakes better than my grandfather did (brake and coast method), at the end they were perfectly fine.

 

Brake tech has come a long way.

Ian F (Forum Supporter)
Ian F (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
11/11/22 5:21 p.m.
volvoclearinghouse said:

I was taking a leisurely drive down the Peak a few months back in a rental Chevy Traverse.  I used the +/- buttons to hold gears and had to use the brakes fairly little.  Unfortunately, I got stuck behind a Chrysler minivan who literally rode the brakes for MILES.  Eventually he pulled off, the brakes stinking to high heaven.  Lots of folks nowadays have no concept of gearing down for grades.  :-/

I find that amusing since a newer Chrysler minivan is so easy to put into manual mode and select whatever gear you want to be in.  I use that function in my van with some regularity. 

ProDarwin
ProDarwin MegaDork
11/11/22 5:36 p.m.
kb58 said:

So if you drive a Tesla down the mountain, your battery would be charged to about 1200% by the bottom...

A 2000kg vehicle 1438 meters up has a potential energy of about 28.2KJ or 7.8 kwhr.

SSpiffy
SSpiffy New Reader
11/14/22 1:04 p.m.
kb58 said:
SSpiffy said:

...I started at the bottom with 166 miles combined range left, got to the top 19 miles later (I didn't take readings at the entrance, but a few miles before) with 127 miles range and got back to the bottom with 170 miles...

So if we have a never-ending stream of EVs going up the hill, re-generating on the way back down, and back-feeding their power back into the power grid, and we have limitless energy! Far more likely, the EV reported skewed data - that, or you discovered perpetual motion.

Oh, absolutely. That much regen confused the car's range functions. :)

trucke
trucke SuperDork
11/14/22 2:50 p.m.

I was up there in '92 when it was mostly dirt.  It was great drifting around the hairpins flat out at 20 mph.  LOL!  No forced induction back then!

Mrs. Trucke and I went up in 2020.  (We were liquidating my parents estate in Colorado Springs).  Now it is all paved and there is a fee.  On the way down down there is a station where everyone stops and brake temps are checked.  Too hot and you are forced to pull aside to allow them to cool.  We had the Highlander, so we just manually dropped it into 2-3 gears and had no issues. 

We encountered many on the way down on the side of the road with smoking front brakes.

Pic from ride up!

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