I spent Saturday at the track, my first visit to Pikes Peak International Raceway.
The track was built in 1997. Before that, it was horse race track. They ran IRL and Busch series races there before it was shut down a while back. It was closed for three years before it was sold. Some NASCAR testing is done here, along with club racing. There’s a deed restriction that prohibits them from hosting any major racing series. CECA has a day there every year.
When it was built, it was one of the fastest 1 mile ovals in the world. Seems counter intuitive to me, as the elevation (5,360′) means lower horsepower. It’s a D-shaped oval, with a short road course in the infield. The road course is 1.3 miles long, which includes about three quarters of the speedway.
I wanted to do this one last year, but things didn’t work out. In the mean time, I’ve talked to a few people who’ve run there to get their impressions. Reviews were mixed – one guy said it was his favorite track while another wasn’t very impressed. I was looking forward to forming my own opinion.
I left the house promptly at six and collected Judd at his place forty minutes later. He didn’t sign up to run but wanted to come out to watch and get a ride or two. Turns out, he didn’t bring his helmet or much to eat, either.
The forecast for Denver was 60 degrees and mostly sunny. I didn’t think to check the forecast for Colorado Springs, but expected it to be much the same. We were past Castle Rock before sunrise. Not far south of there it was foggy, which cleared up before Monument Hill. We stopped in Fountain where I gassed up (car and can) and Judd got coffee. Here he told me my left turn signal wasn’t working.
We were at the track in plenty of time to get the inspection signed off and head to the drivers meeting. We used the south garage. I forget what the car count was, but the garage accommodates 36 cars and we didn’t quite fill it up. When we got there, a very pretty yellow Ferrari 458 cabrio was in the garage, but he moved it outside before the meeting. It wasn’t running today, sadly. After the inspector stickered my car, they asked Judd if he was ready. He told them he was just spectating, but it didn’t take much convincing to get him to fork over the entry fee and join the fun.
In the garage
I’m sure I’m forgetting some, but we had four Elises, a bunch (herd? stable?) of Mustangs, three Miatas, a Mini or two, two BMWs (an M Coupe and 5M), a ZR1, a Viper, a few Porsches, a Pantera, an Acura NSX, a BRZ and an FR-S. The M Coupe owner keeps a set of slicks at the track and Alan runs his Viper on R6′s to and from the track but other than those two I don’t recall anybody else running slicks. Judd and I were on the same tires, his not much older than my rears. But my fronts are pretty much shot, with something like 15,000 miles on them.
Eric, Judd, and I were all parked together, near the south end of the garage. Eric ran in the red group, I was in the blue, and Judd started blue and switched to red. I had both my helmets with me. As I said earlier, Judd wasn’t planning on driving and although he intended to get a ride, forgot his hat. I said he could borrow mine. Then Kenny showed up with a friend, so we had Judd switch groups so I could take a passenger.
As there weren’t that many cars, the stewards decided that after the first session for each group, they’d combine green and blue. Blue was first out while green had their ground school. We were on track shortly after nine. It was mostly cloudy with temperatures in the mid thirty’s and fairly breezy.
From the paddock, we turn left onto pit lane. Pit out stays on the infield all the way around turns 1 and 2 and joins the track on the back straight. Before speedway turn 3, the road course makes a left onto the infield. At turn 9, the infield course ends and you go onto the 10 degree banking of the speedway, through turns 1 and 2 and onto the back straight again.
Frankly, the speedway frightened me a little. At HPR if you make a mistake and go off, or have a mechanical failure and go off, you really have to mess up to do anything more than get your car dirty. At Pueblo there’s only one place where there’s a wall anywhere close to the track. At the CSP facility you don’t want to go off because if you hit a big rock you’ll damage your car.
But on the speedway, there’s no run-off – the track goes right up to the wall. There are a number of lurid skid marks, each terminating with a nasty mark on the wall. Low in turn 2 there are some bumps. Here, if you mess up, or have something break, you hit the wall and the car’s not damaged: it’s destroyed.
So I took it pretty gingerly on the speedway. Particularly with my front tires being not so great right now. I did try a few different lines through there. We were only allowed to pass on the front and back straights of the speedway, so if I caught somebody on the infield, they’d go high and wave me past on the inside. And if I didn’t pass somebody there, I’d get set up so that if they were paying attention I’d be ready to pass before getting back to the infield. People seemed reluctant to wave me by on the back straight, and when I was working a corner I didn’t see any passing there at all. So I guess I was fortunate to be able to pass there the two or three times I did.
In the first session, I logged ten timed laps and managed a 1:13.8. On the speedway section, I was hitting the low 90s on the front and back straights, and high 70s in the turn. I ran four sessions with the other three being 24, 19, and 23 laps. By the end of the day, I managed to hit 100 on the back straight. I was only a mile or two an hour faster on the front straight and the turn but was braking a bit later. I bettered my time each session, getting a 1:12.5 in the last.
We ate our lunches in the room we held the drivers meeting. I chatted with Kenny and his friend (Josh?). Then they announced the parade laps so we headed back out. I had Josh ride for the parade laps and Kenny would get to ride the next session. The parade laps were led by the 458. Behind him was a black Porsche, and Josh and I were third. We never went more than 60, and I’m pretty sure I did every lap without hitting the brakes. Josh seemed to enjoy it, though, so it’s all good.
Kenny was a passenger for the third session. Not on purpose, we were first in line. I normally go to these thinking I’ll be the slowest car in my session. I don’t think this has ever been true, but in the first session I don’t think I passed anybody and only remember passing a few cars in the second session. So I was thinking I’d be getting passed before long.
View from corner position in turn 9
We ran the out lap, then four timed laps in “clean air”. Then we started catching people. We passed Miatas, Porsches, and Mustangs. We passed the Pantera. It was great fun. Kenny noticed how much later I could brake than just about everybody we caught up to. Part of that, surely, is that many of the drivers had never driven on a race track before and had no real idea how late they could brake. We were only passed by the M5 and the BRZ (or was it the FR-S?).
The video is from my fourth session. It’s not my fastest lap, that happened two laps later. This lap was 1.1 seconds slower due to traffic, but at least you get to see something other than my boot lid. By this time, the faster cars had either left for the day or moved to the red session, leaving me the fastest car on the track.
It was a fun day. I enjoyed running on a new track. The facility was nice. But I’m not sure how often I’ll come back here. Of the four tracks I’ve driven on, this one is my least favorite.