A sedan, a truck, an SUV, and a van are going to race up a very tall mountain with very few guard rails and, likely, a mix of snow and fog. All of these vehicles will be electric and piloted by people who are capable of going dangerously fast. This is a little crazy, but that’s what the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is all about.
There’s no easy way to describe Pikes Peak other than to say that calling it a “hill climb” is akin to describing Tony Montana an amateur cocaine enthusiast. The Goodwood Hill Climb is 1.5 miles long and has an elevation change of about 500 feet. The Pikes Peak “track” is a public highway that’s 12.42 miles long, contains 156 turns, and climbs more than 4,720 feet to reach an elevation of 14,415 feet at the summit. The starting line is more than 9,000 feet above sea level!
Because the air gets so thin as you go higher into the atmosphere, cars powered by internal combustion suffer from the same oxygen deficiencies that impact people at those elevations. I know a team who couldn’t understand why none of their lights and tools worked until they realized that, at the highest section, their gas-powered generators were producing roughly half the output they got at sea level. In these environments, electric cars make a lot of sense.
It’s why Romain Dumas, in the electric Volkswagen I.D. R managed to set a record at 7:57.148. Lately, there’s been a lot more action in production cars, with Porsche 911 GT2 RSes trying to take the overall win and various Teslas trying to take the EV production record (the current record is held by my old pal Dai Yoshihara in a Model 3 at 11:06.205). Actually, funny story: Last year’s Pikes Peak was marred by tough weather and the Tesla drivers had trouble trying to use their touchscreens to turn on the defrosters:
That’s Blake Fuller, who was the first person to bring a Tesla to Pikes Peak and held the production EV record for a number of years. You can watch the run if you want to get a sense of how wild the track is. Even though the car’s don’t lose power due to oxygen starvation, thermal management is a huge issue for EVs. Because electric cars are, generally, heavier, brakes are also a potential weakness.
This year, the electric cars competing are a wild mix of randomness. Here’s what’s coming, according to a list released by the organization:
2023 Ford Performance SuperVan
We’ve written about the Ford Performance SuperVan before. It’s a delivery “van” with a 50 kWh battery pack and four electric motors with a combined 1,972 horsepower. It will reportedly scoot to 62 mph from a dead stop in less than two seconds. Here’s what it looks like in the inside:
It’s not delivering anything other than smiles, obviously, as it’s a custom-built race car. And guess who is driving it? None other than all-time King of the Mountain Romain Dumas. Can it actually eclipse the svelter ID.R, which has less power but, you know, isn’t a van? I’m skeptical, but excited.
BMW XM Label Red
Obviously, not all of us love the BMW XM Label Red, because it’s a big, expensive electric SUV that looks like Macau threw up on an X7. I’m willing to give it a shot before I make a full ruling. Maybe it’s good! Either way, it’s going up Pikes Peak for BMW with Matt Mullins, who is the head of the company’s performance driving school program in North America. That dude can certainly wheel, so maybe the 6,000-pound SUV can use its 735 horsepower to set a quick time. Either way, I salute the driver’s boldness.
Whaaaaaat? This isn’t breaking news, as we’ve known this was happening for a while. Rivian test driver Gardner Nichols will take a (presumably) modified R1T electric truck up the mountain, trying to shake as much speed out of the vehicle’s 830 horsepower. According to Carscoops, this isn’t an “official” entry from Rivian but, like, the guy works for Rivian so I bet he knows who to ask for help. I can’t wait to see what they do to the truck to get it rolling.
Tesla Model S Plaid
The most “normal” car on this list. Randy Pobst is a veteran of the mountain and has a lot of experience racing Teslas. He’ll be, yet again, piloting the Unplugged Performance Tesla Model S Plaid up Pikes Peak. Last year, he set a time of 11:24.604 in extremely challenging weather, which was good enough for 4th place in his division. If he gets better weather I suspect he can get in the low 11-minute range, if not even a little better.
He’ll definitely push the car, here’s his 2020 crash in practice in an Unplugged Performance Model 3:
I talked to Randy soon after this crash (I was making a documentary about the race that you can watch here) and he was fairly calm about the whole thing. I’m hoping he finally gets a full, clear weather run this year.
My guess is the SuperVan is going to be the fastest EV this year if weather or bad luck don’t intervene. As for the production record? My assumption is it’s Randy’s year, though I’m curious what that R1T is going to do.
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Photos: Ford, Rivian, Volkswagen, PPIHC, Unplugged Performance
I had the pleasure of driving my jeep up Pikes peak not long after the VW record run. Stopping for a few pictures it took 45 minutes. On the way down there was a booth for brake temperature check. I asked the guy what is was seeing. He said that nobody had ever asked him that. Then he said EVs have nearly room temp brakes from regen and people that do not know there car has a low gear they have glowing hot brakes. I also saw a VW and Austin test cars up there that day.
I was behind a car at that checkpoint that blew through without stopping. 3 rangers (forest, not Ford, though I don’t remember what they were driving) took off after him. The guy manning the booth said he’d never seen anyone do that before, but evidently they take it very seriously.
That they do. I took my niece and nephew up there several years back around the time they started driving. I was somewhere well above timberline where a wrong turn means a very likely long drop when I advised them “they hold a race up this thing.” They both thought the people were crazy to do it. I don’t entirely disagree.
I really love the cab-forward shuttlecraft look of that van. Ford, when are we mere mortals going to get a version for the streets? Even if they use the basic Mach-E powertrain that’s still plenty of grunt.
Isn’t the XM a plug-in hybrid, not electric?
My gut says the SuperVan is a contender. This race is the GOAT. The course is iconic, it is just the coolest shit ever.
I hope his view out the windshield was better than what the video showed otherwise thats nuts. But in all respect to Pops Fuller and an old person programming a VCR, well he does look like he qualifies for singing in a boy band any longer and that is for awhile.
That Ford SuperVan looks twitchy as hell in and out of the turns in that video LOL
I can think of nothing that I want more from this year’s PPIHC than to be able to say that VW came with a pride-of-the-brand race car to set their record, and Ford beat them in a van.
Too bad your documentary is on MT+. Their subscription is just too much for RoadKill and Dirt Everyday
You get WEC and Aussie Supercars too, at least.
I used to watch the hell out of RoadKill and Dirt Everyday back when it was on YT. I get that content producers want to make more money and they deserve to but MT+ was such a sucky platform when it first rolled out that I gave up.
IT’S VAN TIME, BOOOOOOIIIIIIIS
I respectfully disagree with the first sentence of the article. I believe to be accurate it should instead read “A sedan, a truck, a CYBERNETIC BOAR, and a van are going to race up a very tall mountain with very few guard rails and, likely, a mix of snow and fog.”
However, your description of the aforementioned cybernetic boar had me actually laugh out loud. The results of this race should be entertaining regardless.
I am definitely cheering on the van. I love vans, and because I don’t have one right now, I must live through this vehicle.
The first R1S I saw in the wild was parking behind me on the top of Pikes Peak. Nothing more to add.
The test driver guy lives in Aspen, so it might have been his!
aspen…where the beer flows like wine, where the women instinctively flock like the salmon of Capistrano.
Lies!!! It’s all lies!!!!! The missus and I visited Aspen a while back while driving through Colorado and there’s absolutely nothing from the movie there because it was all filmed in Breckenridge and Utah!!!
lol, makes sense, what with the faked moon landing and all. i hate to think we live in a world where we can’t even trust hollywood!