Probably the worst kept secret on the mountain, the 90th running of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb will occur on a fully-paved race course. Responding to legal and safety pressures, Pikes Peak has slowly been paving its dirt sections, which during the hill climb week made for spectacular plumes of dust and breath-taking slides from cars and bikes alike. With under 3 miles of dirt section currently remaining on the course, Pikes Peak has slowly been adding more asphalt sections over the past few years, which in-turn have been a major contributing factor to the hill climb seeing records smashed across virtually all classes each year.
While the remaining dirt section resides in a lower portion of the race course (between mile markers 10 & 13), which is relatively safer than the higher elevation sections (do NOT look over the edge), Pikes Peak has been under pressure to increase the safety of the mountain, adding guardrails and paving dirt sections. Even in its current form, our initial impression of the course was that there were seriously risky corners that we couldn’t imagine taking at speed, let alone with a dirt surface.
This is of course part of the allure that Pikes Peak brings to motorcycle and car racing, and the event has enjoyed a relatively good safety record over its 89 years of operation (compare that to the nearly annual fatality record of the Isle of Man TT). For many fans the inevitable paving of the race course, which for 51 weeks out of the year is used by tourists hoping to take in the spectacular view of Colorado Springs and its surrounding areas, will do away with a part of the core rally-style element that Pikes Peak offered. On the other side of the coin though, a full asphalt course will bring in a breed of racers who come from a road racing background. This also means that a new class of machinery will dominate the hill, especially in the motorcycle class where supermotos have been the weapon of choice.
The 89th running of the mountain has already given us a glimpse of what this new generation will look like, with the 10 minute barrier broken by Nobuhiro “Monster” Tajima, and Carlin Dunne setting an all-new overall motorcycle record during his rookie debut on the mountain (on his dealership’s demo bike no less). We’ve already seen the increase in speed on the mountain with its continued abundance of tarmac, and next year we expect to see more sport bikes gridding up (Dunne tells us that he thinks he might show up with a Ducati Superbike 848 EVO). While it’s predictable that more records will fall next year, the question of whom will set those times is entirely up for grabs. Only time will tell.
Photo: © 2011 Jensen Beeler / Asphalt & Rubber – Creative Commons – Attribution 3.0