Pikes Peak is a magical place that brings drivers back year after year. You can see how amazing the event is, in the video that shows the tears in Ralph Bruning’s eyes, after he finished his last run on Pikes Peak. You can see it in Monster Tajima’s giant grin. She’s a beautiful mountain. And at the end of the day, it’s her race; it’s a race between the driver and the peak.
We returned to Pikes Peak with the goal of crossing the finish line again. To see the checkered flag. Pretty simple in words, but not so simple in execution. Just ask those that didn’t make it…just getting to the top is really what it is all about.
In pre-race interviews I had joked that since last year’s race, we have done a little bit of work the car and a lot of work to the driver. There was some truth in that statement. Even though we have improved the car quite a bit with aerodynamic parts from Group4 Autosport, we were running rock-star status tires from Federal Tyre from Taiwan, and we had added a bit of horsepower the the MINI’s motor; most of the team development was driver oriented. I had the opportunity to spend many days at the kart track, training on different set ups with different tires. Through the winter, the track conditions were iffy, but I really saw how good it was for me as a driver to drive on a snowy, cold, icy track. As soon as I was back on the dirt of Pikes Peak, I could tell how beneficial my training was at DirtFish Rally School this past spring. The effects of their training were evident from the first time I got behind the wheel of another car on asphalt, but I loved the confidence they gave me on the dirt. All of the seat time in the MINI really helped too. I appreciate all of the training from experienced drivers at Pikes Peak International Raceway.
So, a little bit of work to the car and a lot of work to the driver later, it was race day!
Practice and Qualifying on Pikes Peak
Being a seventeen year old, there are very few reasons why I would wake up at 2:30 in the morning. With that being said, the opportunity to race up Pikes Peak is on the top of that list!
Pikes Peak is an adventure in itself. We arrived to Colorado Springs early Tuesday morning for tech inspection. Grant arrived with the MINI to be first in line. Once I arrived and went through registration, the car made her way through tech. Grant and I loaded the MINI back into the trailer and enjoyed seeing all of our old friends. We walked around shaking hands, taking pictures, and sharing smiles. It was great to see all of the cars and drivers!
Rebecca arrived Tuesday afternoon. Grant, Rebecca, and I enjoyed a team dinner that evening and headed back to the hotel room for an early night. That 2:30 AM wake up call came quite early!
Wednesday morning we were testing on the Middle Section of the Peak. We were grouped with the Time Attack 2WD and 4WD Divisions, the Unlimited Division, and the Open Wheel Division. The Middle Section is all asphalt and has the W’s. Rebecca and I took almost every run and we had a great time. Every run we had was solid, quick, and smooth. We saw constant improvement each time, and it felt so good to be back on the mountain! At the conclusion of testing, Rebecca and I headed straight back up the mountain to do our recce run to make sure our notes were just perfect. After the recce run, we hurried back to town. I had been invited to attend the first Media Day for the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. Instead of the individual press conferences that they have hosted in the past, they invited several of the drivers to attend a single event where all of the media was invited. I was immensely honored to have been invited to attend this event with some of the biggest names in Pikes Peak History.
Wednesday evening was another early night for the team, without our usual afternoon naps we were feeling quite tired. Thursday morning testing was just a few hours away!
Thursday morning we were testing on the Top Section. After participating in the tire test weekend in early June, I was feeling a bit better about the newly paved section. There still was a lot to be learned. Bottomless Pit is an entirely different turn compared to last year, narrower, and not quite a sweeper anymore. Though some of the sections were a bit faster, some of the turns were a bit slower. It was a compromise on the top, but it was great fun! There were a few sections that I struggled to get just right, but after debriefing and speaking with Rebecca, we figured it out! We ran a last couple of runs and I was starting to feel pretty good about race day. We had a quick photo session with our Federal Tyre engineer, Taz Yeh, and our Federal Team mates, David and Alison Kern.
Friday morning was qualifying and practice on the bottom section of the mountain. The bottom section was the only part of the mountain that still has any dirt remaining. There was about 2.5 miles of dirt. We had three very good practice runs on the bottom section and qualified with a 5:57. It was incredible to be sub-sixes on the bottom half! The dirt felt so good and Rebecca and I were both anxious for race day.
Friday night always brings the excitement of Fan Fest! It’s great to feel the energy in downtown Colorado Springs and to get really pumped up for the event. There were so many people at Fan Fest this year! We were so busy shaking hands, taking photos, signing autographs, and selling shirts.
It was finally race day! Time to see all of the hard work pay off. Rebecca and I sat there all strapped in at the start line waiting for that green flag. I couldn’t believe that I was there again. My favorite place in the world. Waiting for the green flag, I took three deep breaths. I was just 12.42 miles away from that finish line. So close, but yet so far. There had to be focus, strong communication, and talent from both Rebecca and I. The team had done everything that they could do. The MINI, (who is affectionately named Michele after the world famous rally driver Michele Mouton), Rebecca, myself, and the mountain. It was up to just us girls.
The green flag finally dropped. I sat at the start line for a few moments waiting for the Traqmate to acquire GPS signal. I had to keep calm and ensure the team that all was fine. I just really wanted the Traqmate data! Finally the signal was acquired, and we were off. The road conditions were quite a bit hotter than anything we had experienced during the early morning practice sessions. I believe that the surface temperature was close to 110 degrees, by the time we left the start line. The tires came up to pressure quickly and the road felt pretty slick. The line on the dirt hadn’t been as well swept as it was during qualifying. As any driver on Pikes Peak will tell you though, you have to take what the mountain gives you and make the absolute most of it. As I worked to find as much grip as possible, we made our way up the mountain. I drove hard but within my abilities. We had to see that checkered flag! We made it through the bottom section; deep breath. Middle section; stretch the fingers. Top section; I can almost see the checkered!!
There it was. The checkered flag. The only thing greater than seeing a checkered flag at the end of a race is seeing one at over 14,110 feet. Whew. We had done it…again! Rebecca and I were both brought to tears as we embraced each other after getting out of the car.
Rebecca is one of the greatest people I have ever met in my life. She is so much more than a navigator, she is truly a co-driver. Rebecca helped me maintain focus all week. She made sure that I stayed grounded, calm, and excited about Pikes Peak. She helped me improve my driving, she talked about the line of the race course with me. She watched my gauges, and she flawlessly read me every call correctly during those 12.42 miles. I am so very grateful that Rebecca agreed to sit next to me this year, as she did last year.
At the finish line, Rebecca and I smiled for some photos, hugged some other drivers, and had our photos taken by the My Life @ Speed guys before making our way down the final hairpin turn to watch the Unlimited drivers. Down there, we spoke with and congratulated Pikes Peak Hill Climb legend, Rod Millen, on his class win. We talked to Jeff Zwart about the Time Attack 2WD battle between him and Rod. Once the unlimited drivers left the line, the mountain became silent. One very smart driver had sent a radio up to the summit. So there we were, sitting on the outside of the final hairpin of Pikes Peak huddled around a radio holding our breath.
Earlier in the week I had been confident that the ten minute record would fall, but after racing the roads I questioned it. The conditions were hot, the line was slippy, could they really do it? These were some of the best drivers in the world that were facing one of the toughest competitions in the world. We saw Monster Tajima fly by the final corner. He looked fast. Really fast. After we saw him cross the finish line we took a deep breath in and waited. And waited. And waited. Come on….just tell us the time!!!
The famed 10 minute barrier had fallen. He did it. Tajima did it! He broke the record on the last year of dirt. After growing up watching Tajima chase that record, I was brought to tears for a second time that day. Something about standing on the Summit of Pikes Peak with the fellow drivers when that record fell, is a feeling that I will never forget. My heart broke for Texas Dave and Paul Dallenbach who were both unable to finish the race due to mechanical failures. Rhys Millen struggled without brakes but still found a smoking fast time, and we were all impressed by the Jean-Phillipe Dayraut’s attempt and quick time on the mountain.
After enjoying some donuts on the Summit, Rebecca and I took some pictures with some of our favorite drivers and celebrated all of our finishes. As I said before, Pikes Peak is magic.
As you can see in the photos, the weather held up quite nicely. Look at that blue sky! We spent quite a bit of time up there, by about 6:00 pm, we were ready to head down and celebrate with the team. I love the parade lap on the way down, the excitement of the crowd cannot be described. It was great to see all of the race fans who stuck out the whole day! As promised, Rebecca and I brought down doughnuts for the team. The team had champagne and (age appropriate) sparkling cider waiting for us when we got there.
It was a long day, but I wouldn’t have changed a thing! Rebecca and I finished 7th in the Time Attack 2WD Division, something that we were quite proud of considering our tough competition. We also improved our time over 30 seconds over our finish last year. Most importantly, we saw that finish line.
I owe so very much to all of the support I have gotten this year. First off, I want to thank my family. They have supported me and showered me with love since day one. My parents have never doubted my goals and have encouraged me to always follow my dreams. I think that my big brother, though he would never admit it, actually enjoyed race day this year. It meant a lot to me that he was there. To my neighbors, my friends, and my family that followed the event on the mountain and via live timing and scoring- thank you. I would like to thank Grant Barclay, who has been instrumental in every aspect of working towards my Pikes Peak and professional goals. He has believed in me and encouraged me, while helping build me as a driver. Thank you to Rebecca Greek, the best navi in the world. Thank you to Pat Holmes who is a very talented driver coach and mentor. Last, but certainly not least, thank you to all of the sponsors who have helped me get to where I am today. Thank you to Lift Up America, to Federal Tyres, Murphy Mining and Exploration, Motoringshirts, Group4 Autosport, DirtFish Rally School, Wattle and Daub Contractors, Peak Eurosport, Built-By-Bones and to all of other sponsors. I couldn’t have done it without the wonderful team of people that I get to work with everyday.
Perhaps most important, my fans, thank you all for your support. To have you come and offer encouragement during race week, and on race day, really inspires me. To hear the cheers of everyone during the Champions Parade down the mountain brings tears to my eyes. Thank you all.
While we still may be recovering from the very busy week on Pikes Peak, we are working hard to move forward. Wednesday after Pikes Peak Grant and I flew to Boise, Idaho to speak at a Lift Up America event. It was a great group of students and, as always, I really enjoyed listening to and meeting with some very inspirational people.
Grant and I flew back to Denver early Thursday morning and headed directly to the race track. I had the opportunity of testing with a World Challenge Touring Car team. The test went very well and I am excited to be pursuing future opportunities with this team.
It may only be July, but we are already working quite hard putting together plans for next season. 2012 is already looking to be pretty exciting.