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Old 08-16-2012, 05:21 PM   #32
Former Vendor
Member#: 305763
Join Date: Jan 2012
Location: Plano, TX

Project Update for August 16, 2012: As in my other project race car forum threads, I would normally start off with a post-race report right about now. But not this time. The 90th running of the PPIHC was so out of control that I have talk about the event, the crashes, and the mistakes made by the race organizers first. I apologize in advance to the readers, as this is not all roses and snowflakes. I will follow up with a real post-race report from the perspective of Vorshlag, Brianne's car, our support crew, practice, qualifying, the race, and more. In short: Brianne finished 5th out of 23 in her class, starting after a long (90+ minute) crash delay, which put her running in the rain and hail. Not complaining about the conditions - we know that if she would have qualified better she would have run earlier, in the dry conditions like the first five cars in her class did. Again, I will expand more on Brianne's story in my next post.

I started writing about my thoughts of the event itself on Monday (the day after the race), but it took me until Thursday (today) to really get my thoughts together. All of our crew has finally gotten back and more facts are available now, so I am glad I waited. Jeremy Foley's crash video has 2+ million hits on YouTube in two days, with Paul Dallenbach's videos close behind. So many people have seen the multiple crash pictures and videos and want to know more, I have had dozens of people calling and texting me for "what happened?!", so here is my version of events. This is as seen through my own eyes, without rose colored glasses or my normal niceties. These are not the views of the rest of our crew, of the driver or co-driver from Brianne Corn Racing, or anyone else. Just my views, from my perspective.

Who am I to talk bad about the ninety year old, revered PPIHC event? I admit that I haven't even been to a Pikes Peak competition event before this one. However, in the past 24 years of my own racing experiences I have seen a good number of club and professional level races in several countries. From endurance events, circle track, sprint races, F1, NASCAR, drag races, road races, open road races, autocrosses, HPDEs, time trials, and more. It doesn't take too much experience to understand when things are FUBAR, like the 90th running of the PPIHC was.

From my point of view there was a lot of weirdness going on. I saw safety issues and race organizer decisions that would be unacceptable at any other race I've ever entered or attended, and I feel that I have to share them here. After talking to dozens of people at the event who said they followed our build thread for this car (which is on eight forums now), I don't want somebody to read a filtered version of the race from me, then think that Pikes Peak might be safer or more organized than it was, so I'm not holding anything back. The big problems at this event all stemmed from a few key mistakes made by the race organizers, which anyone involved with the event already know about.

Read This Bill Caswell Article:

Please stop reading here for a moment and read Bill Caswell's article about this PPIHC event that he wrote for Jalopnik. It is aptly titled "How Pikes Peak Became The Most Dangerous Place I’ve Ever Raced". Caswell is a fixture in the rally scene, plus a party animal and a real character, but he has a sharp mind and has seen a lot of races across the globe. His comments about the lack of safety at the event are spot on. The organizers made too many mistakes and allowed too many entrants, including drivers and car builders without any race experience whatsoever. The abnormally high number of entrants (rookie or otherwise) made for compressed practice days with many fewer practice runs per team than normal. He withdrew from the event after qualifying, for the reasons he stated.

Brianne and her crew chief JasonM have competed in four PPIHC events, but as I have stated this was my first time to watch a Pikes Peak event up close. It was a very cool event, but also a big hot mess. I get why the event is attractive - it's an absolutely beautiful road to drive, especially now that it is completely paved. Some veteran PPIHC racers were peeved about the lack of dirt, and how that changes the history of this event, and I get that. I don't share that sentiment, as I'm a pavement kind of racer, so Pikes Peak was more attractive to me now than it ever was before.

$250K Dacia entry before and after running over a GoPro in the road. Click to enlarge

However, after seeing what I did in practice, qualifying and on race day, I can honestly say that this road and this event is the most dangerous sanctioned race in the world (on par or worse than the Isle of Man TT Race). It has 156 turns, almost all of them without guardrails, and if you screw up you are going into trees or over a cliff. If you make even a small mistake, or say if you drive over a freakin' GoPro camera that some d-bag spectator puts in the road "for a cool shot" and get a blow-out (which happened to the Dacia team this year! Picture above from practice), you are in for a potentially very bad crash that could end in death or severe injury for you and spectators. The 12.4 mile long race course also starts at 9390 feet and goes up to 14,110 feet of elevation, so there's barely any air to breathe for the drivers or to cool the cars.

Co-driver Jeremy Rowland showing the hail falling at the peak after their race run (take a close look at the wing, one racer was using it as cover from the hail!)

I will be the first to say that the event organizers had a LOT of things to deal with, from spectators wandering onto the road or falling off the mountain (one girl was on top of a rock that was hit by a car, at least one fell off a cliff, and there were two more spectator "incidents" that were reported on the radio), they had to manage too many entrants, and they had to deal with some seriously bad weather. But... these were all known issues and/or ones they created themselves. The organizers had nobody to blame for the event running long and the resulting weather issues/delays but themselves.

Racing finished so late the drivers drove down the mountain in the dark

Logistically I don't know how they pull it off, with so many crash crews, cops, ambulances, helicopters, media, spectators, and racers strewn across 12.4 miles of pavement. I have to give a huge shout out and thank you to the safety crew, helicopter pilot, and the various sheriffs and policemen that had to deal with a bunch of drunk spectators. There is virtually no cell coverage on the mountain, so I couldn't find out much from our folks located higher up or from the internet, so it was a bit frustrating as a spectator. It's a longer race course than the Nürburgring, and having driven both courses, Pikes Peak is infinitely more treacherous to drive on or to support.

As you can see in the class qualification listing above, it seemed to me, in my humble view, that they had a rather large number of rookies (11 of 23 qualifiers in Time Attack class alone). Some classes had 50% PPIHC rookies and other classes had as much as 75% PPIHC rookies. That's a big red flag to anyone that has raced wheel to wheel at even the club level. In order to race W2W in SCCA Club Racing, you have to go to a competition school (or two) and then compete on probation for two or more race weekends before you get a full competition license. Pikes Peak has none of that... they let people with only autocross experience or very little road racing experience enter. Some without even that, all the way up to the Unlimited class. This caused an unusual number of people on the mountain that had zero track experience, much less any actual previous rally or hill climb experience.

I feel that the normal dangers of this race combined with the huge number of racers (and compressed practice time) and the high percentage of rookies contributed to the abnormally high number of crashes, and many lengthy race delays. Then there was a big change in weather in the afternoon (which apparently happens like clockwork between 2 PM and 4 PM almost every day during this season) that was also a major factor in run times, crashes and delays. The event ran so long that they had to truncate the runs to finish at Glen Cove (about 1/2 race distance) for some of the Time Attack racers and all of the Open Wheel division cars. We drove up to the start line at 4 AM and didn't get off the mountain until 9:30 PM, and they were still piling down the mountain for an hour or more after us. Normally they are done with competition by 3 PM and can miss the predictably bad weather that this mountain sees.

The danger factor at this event is indescribable... it is simply off the scale compared to any sort of racing I have ever experienced or watched. I don't know how they can keep doing this race without some significant safety changes - better cage/seat/safety regulations, better spectator control (fences), and maybe even some added guardrails. I saw so many wrecked cars coming off that mountain it was staggering. Radio calls all day that included things like "we have lost three cars on the mountain", or "send Flight for Life", over and over again.

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