July 15, 2009 – Colorado Springs , Colorado – The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is the second oldest motor sports race in America and a long-standing tradition in Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak Region. First competed in 1916, this year marks the 87th running of the “Race to the Clouds.” The 2009 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb for the Quad Division began with practice on the lower section of the Pikes Peak Highway on Wednesday, July 15, 2009.[/dropcap]
The race is run on a 12.42 mile course with 156 turns that begins at 9,390 feet and finishes at the 14,110 foot summit of America’s Mountain: Pikes Peak! As the drivers climb toward the summit, the thin air slows reflexes and saps muscle strength. The thin air also robs engines of 30% of their power at the summit. Competitors and vehicles must be in top shape simply to finish…let alone win!
This year the race has 11 classes and features a variety of automotive, semi truck, exhibition, open wheel, super stock car, pro truck and motorcycle classes with a field approaching 200 competitors.
The day began with beautiful sunny skies in the scenic Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Fifteen quads took to the lower section of the course, for practice and qualifying. The lower section of the course features both asphalt and dirt surfaces. This portion of the course has some long, high speed, straight of ways and tight hairpin corners. The elevation at the starting line is 9,390 feet above sea level and this section of the course ends at 11,440 feet above sea level. Both machine set up and preparation and rider skills are tested on this portion of the race course. There were mostly 500cc Yamaha Banshees in the field, along with two 500 cc Suzuki Quadzillas.
After three practice runs and a qualifying run, Duncan Racing International (DRI) riders Alex Helton #560 and Jim Vidmar #76, showed they were poised to bring Duncan Racing International, its third win at Pikes Peak. Alex was the fastest qualifier with a time of 5:37.291, and Jim was not far behind with a time of 5:42.420. Both of the DRI prepared Yamaha Banshees were working well and both riders came into the event with their confidence high, because of Alex Helton’s win and Jim Vidmar’s third place finish at the Buffalo Peaks Hill Climb three weeks earlier.
The second day of practice saw the quads on the middle section of the course that was all asphalt. This portion of the course has many long straight of ways and hairpin corners with 1,340 feet of elevation change. The section tested horsepower, brakes and riding ability. Both Jim and Alex and their race bikes were up to the challenge of this portion of the grueling course. Both Alex and Jim were running competitive times on this portion of the course. It was extremely difficult to make a smooth run on the course during this practice session, because of the high number of motorcycles and ATV’s on the course. This section was extremely difficult to pass on, and both Jim and Alex were caught behind slower riders during this session. The only changes to the machines that Jim and Alex made during this session were air pressure changes.
The third and final day of practice was on the top section of the course. This portion was all dirt and also featured long, fast straight of ways and a mix of tight and sweeping corners. The altitude becomes a factor on this section of the course, as the competitors reach the finish line at the 14,110 above sea level. This section robs horsepower and traction is at a minimum. Jim and Alex also took into account that on race day, their tires would be worn and both riders made adjustments accordingly. This section of the course was extremely dusty and with approximately 120 motorcycles and ATV’s on the course; the conditions were difficult. Both Jim and Alex felt like they had gained some valuable information over the three days of practice and they were going to use the information to adjust their setup for race day. All of the practice sessions were held in the early morning hours when the air was cool. Jim and Alex knew they were scheduled to start the event on race day, much later when the temperature was going to be warmer, and the course would be different, due to the fact several race cars would have been on the course prior to the 500cc Quad Division taking to the course.
Race day, Sunday July 19, 2009, saw sunny skies and temperatures in the high 60’s at the starting line. Jim and Alex made some adjustments to the carburetors of both race bikes for the higher temperature prior to the start of the event. The only other adjustments made were bolting on new tires and a clean air filter. Both Jim and Alex were confident as the Quad 500 Division staged at approximately 11:00 a.m. As Jim and Alex took their places on the starting grid along with their crew, Jim Vidmar Sr., Rob Vidmar, Jill Vidmar and Rosey Helton they were confident about their chances of a class win.
Alex’s row included Jim Goertz and Mike Ell, both past winners of the event. When the green flag dropped, Jim Goertz grabbed the hole-shot followed closely by Alex and Mike. As all three riders were locked in a tight battle, mechanical gremlins began to surface for Jim. Jim was eventually sidelined on a portion of the course known as the ski area with overheating problems. Mike also suffered mechanical problems with the transmission and was slow on the course. Alex was in position to capture his first win on Pikes Peak, when he suffered drive line problems near Devils Playground.
Jim’s row included Lee Kent and Chad Hazelton. Jim was determined to get a good start and that is exactly what he did. When the green flag dropped, Jim was first out of the gate. Jim was leading his row until he missed a shift in the ski area and was passed by Lee, but only for a brief moment. Jim regained the lead going into Glen Cove and he never looked back. Jim continued to push hard and as he passed the riders from the first row, he knew this was his opportunity to score his first win at this prestigious event.
Jim reached the summit in 12:34.598. Jim won the event by over ten seconds! Jim credits his crew to include Alex for getting his bike set and tuned for the various conditions on Pikes Peak. Jim also could not have achieved his goal of winning on Pikes Peak with out the support of Duncan Racing International and Loren and Lenny Duncan.
Jim grew up in Colorado Springs in the shadows of Pikes Peak. Jim had watched great racers win on Pikes Peak and he always hoped to place his name in the record books, along side all time greats like the Unsers, Mears and others.
Jim wants to thank all of his sponsors: Duncan Racing International, Paul Turner Race Exhausts, Six Six One, Utopia Optics, Vortex Racing, Magura USA, Go Pro Camera, XTRM Sports Network, I Shock by Hydrodynamics USA, Rocky Mountain Cycle Plaza, Vidmar Roofing, Wagner’s Welding, Skidmark Racing, For the Relentless.com, Bruce Rands P.C. and European Performance Specialists.