The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is one event I always look forward to on my annual calendar. It’s an event like none other on the globe. The 14,110 ft mountain is my canvas to do as I wish. It is refreshing. Fun. Exhausting. Frustrating. Dangerous. Nearly every emotion that could be thrown at a person in one week is something you are guaranteed to feel on this mountain.
My first year, 2012, I was in sheer awe of the mountain and the event itself, and it was even more special working with Ducati. My second year, 2013, I was overwhelmed with a sense of being part of history as Sebastian Loeb rocketed past me in his special built Peugeot 908 on course to obliterate the standing record. But this year, the mountain had a different feel. And not in a better way.
I was back working with Ducati. I love the team. I love the company. I love the brand. I don’t get to shoot motorcycle racing much, but when I do, it find it to be an exciting and exhilarating challenge. But this year, the mountain had changed. The race was soulless. It had no energy. It had no atmosphere.
What I do not want to do is make this a smear post. Or rain on the parade of a 92-year-old race. But change is needed. Some of you may have read my series of tweets from Sunday afternoon. I stand by what I said. Nothing was said in anger. Only frustration for the event that I very deeply care about. So what has changed?
Pikes Peak race day is a whole rainbow of emotions. At sunrise, you’re excited. Anticipation of the day is overwhelming. The thousands of cars filing up the two-lane mountain road are filled with people excited to see these gladiators tackle the famous mountain. Many many hours later, and many many many red flags later, the day is done. Romain Dumas has claimed honors for the four-wheels. And Jeremy Toye, on a Kawasaki, has taken honors on two wheels — incredible since he wrapped the bike around a tree on Friday morning. But despite the successes and the triumphs of many…..the day is still marred by many mistakes on the mountain. Horrific traffic, poor organization, and far too many red flags. It was not Pike’s Peak’s best day. Respect for the mountain is not a question. It is a demand.
At long last, we were down on the bottom section of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb race course. Each group that runs the bottom uses it as their qualifying run — fastest time to the flag at Glen Cove is on pole.
The bottom section is distinctly different from the two above it. It is the only section completely in the tree line, so you get some interesting light coming through the pine trees.
I find the bottom to be particularly difficult as a photographer. It offers fewer options and vantage points than the sections above, but it has the advantage of not being so high of altitude, so working and walking there is slightly easier.
At the end of our morning, Lambert Fabrice was on pole on the #38 bike, which isn’t at all surprising considering he has been swinging off his machine like a mountain goat version of Marc Marquez.
Saturday is a well deserved day off for everyone. After four straight mornings of alarm clocks sounding off at 2:20 am, we all need a little rest. Nothing happens on the mountain as far as official race practice goes, but almost everyone will probably do one more sighting run with the public traffic.
They won’t see or run the mountain until Sunday, and when they do, it will be one run — fastest to the top is king of the mountain. It’s a long day. Hopefully free of red flags and clear weather….sadly, I almost guarantee we won’t be free of either.
Back to the summit of Pikes Peak we go. After a warm-up round on Tuesday morning on Pike’s Peak’s highest elevations, we returned for one final high altitude practice on Thursday morning. With breezy and crisp conditions and ambient temperatures cold enough to freeze water, the riders made their way through the winding, high speed, and very bumpy alpine section.
I, however, have never been the biggest fan of the top 3rd of the mountain. It’s more like shooting on the moon. There is lots to do, but you had better bring your “A” game and a ton of energy to hike yourself around in the low-oxygen environment. It’s grueling.
I was much more conformable at altitude today than I was on Tuesday though….but it doesn’t make it any easier. Despite that, at the end of the session I had come to really enjoy the summit section. I shot in places I had never been before, and enjoyed watching the riders really start to push themselves and the bikes to the limit.
Tomorrow, we go qualifying at the bottom! Day off on Saturday, and Sunday is race day!
It’s time to throw down times. Recon day is over. It’s now or never. The riders will not see these sections of the mountain again until race day.
Some of the rookie riders seem to still be learning the fastest lines, but the old veterans have it down pat and are hurling the bike around the tight switchbacks on Sector 2 of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, my favorite part of the course.
There are long fast straights, tight hairpin turns, and insane drop-offs in Sector 2, and it is also where the mountain gains the most elevation in the shortest period of time — not to mention the sunrises are the best up there. It is a magical thing to watch the sun come up over the horizon over the course of five minutes.
Pikes Peak is always magical. But when you get an amazing sunrise, combined with bikes pushing hard up the mountain, it makes for a fun morning.
The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is a grueling event to cover, and nothing is worse than walking off a plane, from more or less sea level, and heading to the highest part of the mountain for Practice 1.
Pikes Peak is unique. The organizers split the mountain into three sections — cars run two-thirds of the course , while bikes, ATVs and sidecars run the other third.
The bikes started at Devil’s Playground for our first practice, which puts us immediately at high altitude. It tests the bikes and our bodies to the limit. But thankfully, first practice is just about getting the bikes dialed in, and less about making fast times.
To finish first, first you have to finish. Reliability on this mountain will put cracks in even the most well laid out plans. Some riders were already pushing hard, and it was evident. Others were just getting the lay of the land.
Tomorrow we run the middle sector of the mountain. As a photographer, it is my personal favorite spot to shoot. But I’m not looking forward to another 2:15am alarm.