Asphalt & Rubber spent the last week waking up at 2am everyday to muster up to the staging grounds for the 89th annual Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, and upon arriving at the second oldest running race in the United States (the Indy 500 being the oldest), we were surprised to see our old friend Carlin Dunne, owner of Ducati Santa Barbara, pitting in the motorcycle paddock with a Ducati Multistrada 1200 race bike.
Now, we’ve always known that Carlin was a wicked fast rider, as this humbled author recalls that at his last track day with Dunne just a year ago, the 28-year-old dirt and street racer lapped him about every third lap at Big Willow. Despite this fact, the hard part has always been describing to other people how fast Dunne truly is, that is until now.
Riding Pikes Peak for the very first time, Carlin Dunne not only stood at the pole position on Sunday’s race to the clouds, and not only did the Santa Barbara native also win the checkered flag in the 1205cc motorcycle class, but the Desmo Devil himself dropped some two-wheeled knowledge on Pikes Peak when he set the outright fastest time ever for a motorcycle on the fabled mountain road and its 156 turns.
Beating great Pikes Peak names like Greg Tracy, Gary Trachy, Tyler Cobb, along with a slew of more experienced Pikes Peak riders, Dunne’s race was dominating from the very start. Dropping the hammer from the first wave, Dunne had a rocket start from the line, and into the first corner was two to three bike lengths ahead of the second and third qualifiers. Perhaps the only thing that detracts from Carlin’s record win this past weekend, was the unfortunate circumstance of Cycle World‘s Mark Cernicky encountering a flat tire while closely chasing Dunne through the dirt section (Cernicky qualified second for the race, and was quick all week..this all after riding his race bike from Southern California to Pikes Peak). While Cernicky was uninjured from his crash, fan favorite Greg Tracy was a bit worse for the wear, after narrowly escaping serious injuries during his crash in the 1205cc class as well.
Tucking the front on the asphalt, the crowd waited with bated breath to hear news about the six-time Pikes Peak Champion. Though a little bruised and sore, news soon came down that Tracy survived the crash relatively unhurt, though the Southern-California native narrowly missed two rock clusters as he flew 10 feet up in the air and 100 feet down the course. While the veteran hinted at a likely return to the mountain next year, Tracy’s Spider Grips Ducati teammate Alexander Smith carried the team banner to the top of the mountain for 2011, finishing second in the 1205cc class on his Ducati North America supported Multistrada 1200 — making the weekend another 1-3 for the Bologna contingency.
Bringing only single shop mechanic, Sam Swain, from Ducati Santa Barbara to the race, Dunne competed, if you can believe it, on his store’s Multistrada 1200 demo bike. Removing the obvious street parts, the Ducati Santa Barbara Pikes Peak Multistrada 1200 was a relatively stock machine, with a custom bargain bin exhaust pipe being the only major modification. Dispelling any rumors that he was operating on a 200hp Ducati factory works motor (yes, the rumors were rife in the PPIHC paddock), Dunne described the secret modifications to his murdered Desmo exclusively to A&R.
“The Ducati Santa Barbara Multistrada 1200 consists of black spray paint, and a homemade exhaust system that I had a guy weld up for me two days before we left,” laughed Dunne. “Really it was about getting down to the nitty-gritty, and getting the suspension figured out. This is our shop demo, and when it gets back to Santa Barbara, it will continue to be our shop demo.”
Named the 2011 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb Rookie of the Year, Dunne accomplished a rare feat for a PPIHC rookie: winning. Still processing the race, Dunne had nothing but respect for the mountain, the race, and his competitors. “It definitely hasn’t sunk in yet, but it’s been an amazing experience. The whole week has been a whirlwind, and a rollercoaster — the bike wasn’t running the first day of the week,” explained Dunne.
“Really, no one was expecting us to do anything, and we weren’t expecting anything either, but it slowly started creeping up on everyone, and I couldn’t ask for anything better. Quite litterally, everything just fell right into place, right when it needed to.”
With multiple crashes in other classes requiring the Pikes Peak course to be shutdown, the 1205cc class, the last race of the day, started several hours behind schedule, giving teams and riders plenty of time to prepare and focus for their ride.
“We were probably about four hours behind schedule, and all I could do was run that low section in my head. I knew I had to get out in front, and I knew I had to get out ahead of Greg, or else once we hit the dirt, the visibility was going to make me fallback. So, before the race, I went over to watch the starter, and figured out the little pattern of what he was doing, focused, and didn’t leave an alternative on whether we were going to get that holeshot start.”
Despite his dominant victory, the course still proved to be a challenge for Dunne, who admitted to having more than one close call. “I’ve got to say, there’s about seven time where I almost crashed — I mean really I thought I was crashing, face of God, going off a cliff type of thing. But that’s how this race is, there’s no way to have it dialed in and know what’s left and what’s right…there were some spectators running out of the way in the dirt section.”
“I tell you, this race probably took a couple years off my life. I need to decompress and think about it, but it’s been an amazing experience all week. There’s nothing like Pikes Peak. Nothing.”
“The best advice I got was from Greg Tracy, being a multi-time Champion, I knew I could trust him. Now keep in mind that he’s giving me this advice before I set pole-position, but he told me just not to race anyone else, don’t try to race it like you would a road race,” recalled Dunne. “Instead, you’ve just got to respect the race, and respect the mountain — do your best to link 156 turns together properly. The moment you try to get in a battle with someone or you try to push it like a normal road race, you’re going to crash. I really took that to heart.”
“Greg also told me that I have to respect the fear. I didn’t really know what he was talking about until I rode it, but it was true. It was great advice from Greg. That guy is a legend, and a hero in my book,” said Dunne with praise. “The fear is the only thing keeping you from getting killed here. Normally when you stop being scared, you’re done. There’s no room for error. Nothing, nothing.”
“Riding back down, I stopped, and I actually put my bike up against a rock and sat on the cliff edge for a second, and looked at it. I just thanked my lucky stars I kept it together. It’s the fear that pulls you back 10%. This is a serious deal here, it’s a serious race. We gave the mountain respect today, and she gave us a victory.”
Photos: © 2011 Jensen Beeler / Asphalt & Rubber – Creative Commons – Attribution 3.0