I’m quite late on this blog post but it’s been a huge and unexpected part of my STEP experience so I can’t pass up writing about it. A little over two weeks ago, I was given the chance to travel with two of my team mates on Buckeye Current to help the Honda Racing team out at Pikes Peak for the yearly hill climb. In exchange, we were given pit crew passes, a free place to crash at night, and a chance to obtain race data from other teams which could possibly help us build an electric race motorcycle for the course in the future. Here’s the rundown of the experience:
The PPIHC (Pikes Peak International Hill Climb) is a week long event which starts with inspections on Monday, continues with practices Tuesday through Friday, and then finishes on Sunday with the actual race. Since the event takes place on the only road leading to the top of Pikes Peak, the practices must happen very early in order for the road to open up to the public before noon. The two other members and myself ended up flying in Thursday and staying until Monday when all of PPIHC was finally over. By the time we reached the hotel, it was already pretty late in the day Thursday and we were told that we would need to be up and ready to go by 2:30 AM in order to set up the race vehicles at the bottom of the track for Friday’s practice. As expected, we didn’t get much sleep. Up we were though Friday morning and off we went to the bottom of Pikes Peak.
Arriving around 3:00 to 3:30 AM, we helped unload Zach Jacob’s race motorcycle off the trailer to get it set up for the day’s practice. After doing what we could, the Buckeye Current crew headed over to talk to one of the electric motorcycle teams nearby. Their bike, the “Brutus V2 Rocket”, and the crew that built it were quite interesting to speak to since we build electric race motorcycles with the rest of Buckeye Current like them. We must have sat and spoke with them for a while since we didn’t actually leave until the motorcyclists starting preparing to start their practice laps. At that point, all that there was to do was watch the motorcycles fly by. We decided to hang near the side of the road a couple of turns up to watch the bikes blast by. It was already a pretty awesome experience and it wasn’t even race day.
After practices wrapped up and we helped Honda pack up, we were offered a ride to the top of Pikes Peak which is over 14,000 ft above sea level. The ride up was pretty amazing in itself but the top was even better. We decided to climb down the rocks to reach one of the cliff edges and look out over everything below us.
I think we would have been up there all day if we could have helped it. Something interesting to note about the top is the lack of oxygen available compared to the bottom. Pikes Peak actually provides oxygen tanks to the riders on race day since all racers have to wait at the top until everyone has made it to the top. If you are the first racer to reach the top, you could be up there for 6+ hours.
Leaving Pikes Peak for the day, we prepared for the Fan Fest that PPIHC puts on every year. For the event, most teams bring at least one of their race vehicles to showcase. Fans can then walk around and check out the race cars and bikes close up and also talk to the teams for each. Right in the middle of the event and downtown Colorado Springs is also a stunt show that takes place where motocross riders hit the ramps to pull off tricks 3 to 4 stories up in the air.
Saturday is actually a day of rest before the race. But in reality, not many teams end up resting since most are out at the bottom of Pikes Peak setting up their pits. We helped Honda set up those for most of the morning and were asked to help set up air fences around the dangerous corners of the course. The air fences were a new addition this year and were due to a large part by Honda and PPIHC. We had no problem helping since we all knew they could definitely save a motorcyclist’s life if he fell off mid-corner. Right as we were about to head up, we had a chance to talk to Hollywood Electrics (a electric motorcycle shop in LA which sells “Zero” bikes). We already had made contact with them the day before but they sweetened the deal by giving us rides up the hill to the air fences on their electric bikes.
After practicing what we would have to do on race day to get the air fences set up, we went back to the hotel to try and get some rest before the race day. Personally, I didn’t sleep.
Race day (Sunday) had arrived and with it was the requirement to be ready to go by 1:30 AM. I was quite ready myself. After setting up the Honda motorcycle and cars, we went to grab some food and talk to the Honda team. Fast forward to the sun starting to rise and it was time for us to take our positions on the hill to manage the air fences. One of the benefits of working the air fences was that we could avoid the spectator areas for a few hours before we were told to move. Here’s a view of the corner we worked at:
Note: The cars usually head in the other direction and UP the hill!
From our position on the hill though we were able to see plenty of fast cars and motorcycles. Actually so many that it never seemed to end. I think we watched cars and motorcycles go by for at least 6 hours. It was quite a long day. Even though some people couldn’t stand watching a racing event for 6 hours, I’m glad I was there and could experience it.
To finish this blog post off, the Buckeye Current team has actually decided to make this the event we race at for the 2015. It’s exciting to know I’ll be back in Colorado in a year and on one of the teams racing instead of only spectating.