There is no place like it anywhere in the world.
A jewel in the Centennial State’s crown, Pikes Peak – America’s Mountain, towers over Colorado Springs like a matriarch. It is a natural representation of America itself – big, beautiful, bold, and intimidating.
The mountain, almost mystical in its presence, serves not only as a source of local pride, but of speed.
For one day every year, the mountain’s tourist road transforms to one of the world’s most daunting racetracks—156 corners, 12.42 miles of adrenalin-charged terror as men and women blast up the side of the mountain as fast as they dare, finishing some 14,115 feet above sea level.
The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, scheduled for June 24, 2018, is one of the most dangerous races on the planet. No run offs, no gravel traps. It’s just you, your machine and a mountain getting steeper by the second.
There is no race like it anywhere in the world.
To compete at Pikes Peak is to take on one of the greatest challenges in motorsport. And while much of the attention is devoted to car competitors, and their mega-budget teams, the real daredevils are those of the two-wheeled brigade.
Using two tire-contact patches the size of credit cards, riders hurtle up the mountain with nothing more than skill, good machine preparation, and a dose of luck to keep them safe.
In a society wrapped in cotton wool, the motorcycle racers of Pikes Peak are a breath of fresh air, and a throwback to yesteryear.
Staying safe is the number one priority for anyone who decides to race the mountain. One never fights the mountain.
Racing Pikes Peak is more a dangerous dance between rider and nature than a fight. If you try to fight the mountain, or do not pay it the respect it commands, there will only ever be one winner. And it will never be you.
Like the best dancers, the best riders make competing look easy. In 2017, rookie Chris Fillmore used his sublime motorcycle skills and a factory-prepared KTM 1290 Super Duke R to claim not just the overall victory, but the fastest ever motorcycle time up America’s Mountain with a 9:49.625.
It was a victory charged with mind-bending emotion, after Fillmore escaped what for many could have been a fatal incident at Mile Marker 19, entering the double left at 130mph.
“I thought I was going off the cliff,” said Fillmore, who used every ounce of his skill to keep the KTM on the mountain. “When I was told my time after nearly having that accident, it was a surreal experience – the joy came later.”
“Having a moment like that really bought home the reality of the situation I was in. The place is so unique to not just America, but world racing. The event has such heritage, such history of riders pushing the limits, that to be the fastest of all was a tremendous honor.”
“But you must respect the place. That’s the golden rule.”
Fillmore will be back for 2018, but will focus on the Middleweight category, with KTM’s new 790 Duke.
This year will see several riders competing from across the globe, including A&R Superfriend Rennie Scaysbrook, second to Fillmore in 2017 and the man who will head KTM’s Heavyweight assault; German sophomore Thilo Günther, who steps up to the Heavyweight category on a BMW S1000R, as well as his compatriot, rookie Lucy Glöckner, widely regarded as one of the fastest female motorcycle racers in the world.
“In Europe, the race is almost mythical,” says Günther. “Especially so in Germany after the famous win in 1987 by rally legend Walter Röhrl. It’s awesome when you get the go on start grid and the 20 kilometers and 156 curves are only for you. And the feeling if you reach the flag at the top is just incredible.”
Along with the United States, Japan, Brazil, Scotland, and Ireland will also be represented across the five two-wheeled classes.
Another returning rider is former record holder and three-time King of the Mountain, Carlin Dunne. The Californian spent the last four years on the Pikes Peak sidelines, acting primarily as a rider liaison officer for the Ducati Squadra Alpina Race Smart program.
A formidable force on mountain, Dunne will be gunning for victory in what will also be Ducati’s racing return to Colorado Springs with the Pikes Peak Multistrada 1260, but he acknowledges the bar has been raised in his time away from competition.
“When I last raced in 2013, I felt I had achieved what I wanted,” Dunne said. “But, although being involved in the Squadra Alpina program was great fun, as a racer, you yearn for the chance to get back out there.”
“After Fillmore took the record away last year, I think it piqued Ducati’s interest, so they asked me if I’d like to come back. I was waiting for that call, to be honest. The bar has definitely risen since I last raced at Pikes Peak, but we have good chance with the bike and will be going for it.”
Perhaps the most emotional return to the mountain this year will be that of Scotsman Joseph Toner.
Toner and his son Connor were both competing in 2016 in the Lightweight category on Aprilia SXV machinery, yet only Joseph made it to the top. Connor crashed at Elk Park during his race run, suffering serious injuries that have taken him years from which to recover.
For Joseph, the return to the mountain is more about closure than any race result. He wants to put a full stop on the race Connor never got to finish.
“The first year after Connor’s accident was tough, however, the good news is we are in a better place now,” Joseph said. “The important thing is his recovery has gone well, so much so he recently competed in the 24 Hour Strathpuffer mountain bike event in Scotland.”
“He’s now back at University in Edinburgh and is currently working through his exams.”
“We have a lot of people to thank and after riding at Pikes Peak for a few years, we feel we have become part of the PPIHC family.”
“After talking things over with Connor and my wife, Carole, we thought it would be a good thing to go back to Pikes Peak not just to see and thank people, but to finish what Connor started on June 26, 2016.
“We have a race to finish I will do it on the same bike Connor rode in 2016.”