Just a few weeks from from now, Pikes Peak changes from being a year-round national park into a full-fledged racing circuit. The 19-mile hillclimb is one of the most famous rally racing events on the annual calendar.
Unlike Spa-Francorchamps or Imola raceway, this circuit is right in our collective backyard.
Anyone can go up the paved road year-round (weather and bravery permitting) to follow the exact route used by the prototypes from Suzuki, Mitsubishi, Hyundai and Peugeot for 2014.
As you climb from the starting point at barely 7000 feet above sea level, you pass through the “Alpine Zone” and up into where there is nothing but the sky, clouds and red rocks at the 14,115 feet summit.
Pikes Peak is not even in the top 25 highest mountains in Colorado, but what makes it special is that the road goes all the way to the top. Think of a ski resort. Unless you’re in a snow-cat, you’re not driving anywhere above 10,000 feet.
This is my second trip up Pikes Peak, and the less enjoyable of the two due to traffic and worries about my overboosting engine. I took a series of videos of the adventure that show my Subaru getting a workout, plus my two dogs panting away in the back seat. One of the coolest things about Pikes Peak is how hard it makes both the driver and the car work to get to the top.
In this article you can also see the evolution of my 2005 Legacy GT Limited Wagon, which is extremely stock in the first trip photos, and heavily modified in the second trip photos. Also some in-between of when the Subie got all muddy playing somewhere off the beaten path.
Founded as a signal outpost and weather station, Pikes Peak also traces its roots to the gold rush era and then tourism. The hillblimb record is finally under 10 minutes, after competitors struggled for the last decade to even knock a few more seconds off every year. This is truly a huge advancement in tech: the journey previously took 12 hours on foot, 9 hours by carriage, or down to three hours on the latest Pikes Peak Cog Railway.
SUMMIT VIDEO ABOVE -- Look how hard it is to get moving at all with so little oxygen for the engine!
Most cars can happily reach the summit within 45 minutes, but budget the same amount going down. There’s no room to coast: there are 180-degree switchbacks every few hundred yards.
It’s a great trip but a very dangerous road 365-days-of-the-year. On this trip in blooming mid-June, the top is still covered in ice, and I saw all four seasons on the ride up the mountain: sunshine, wind, sleet, hail, snow. Then on the way down snow, rain, drizzle, wind and finally sunshine.
Driving too fast is legitimately scary for you, other road users, and passengers. In my previous winter trip, we had a few big spins coming down the shady side of the mountain. Enjoy the videos and photos, add this to your personal ultimate drives list.