Peak Performance: Part 4—Conquering the Mountain
by Chris Leone // Website // Twitter
Images via Acura
As times continue to plunge at Pikes Peak year after year, one manufacturer found itself rewriting the history books in 2018. Join us at Rally-America.com and iRally every day this week as we take a look back at Acura's 2018 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb program!
At Pikes Peak, nearly a full year of preparation comes down to one opportunity to get to the finish line. There are no second runs or mulligans, making it one of the most challenging experiences that any driver will ever face in their racing career.
“There’s a lot of pressure,” Cunningham admits. “Compared to an autocross championship where you get three runs on each of two courses, or in a road racing qualifying session where you have a number of chances to turn in a good lap, or in rally where you can make up time on a different stage because of a problem you may have had on another stage, at Pikes Peak it’s a lot of work during the course of the month (for one run).
“We tested for a total of four days prior to race week, and then you go through the whole race week with a grueling schedule—getting up at zero dark thirty to get to the gates to go into the National Park at 3:30 in the morning, you do your practice and qualifying sessions from 5:30 to 8:30 in the morning, and you’re having breakfast by 9:30. So it’s kind of a grueling month and grueling week leading up to race day, but then on race day, it’s like, ‘okay, we’re going to go at this time,’ but you know 10 minutes before your turn. And then it’s ‘go ahead and do your run, but just so you know, there’s no second attempt.’ You have to either do it or not do it, so that’s a lot of pressure.”
But when the green flag fell, the Acura team made that pressure look like an afterthought. Cunningham gave Acura its third straight Open class victory and third place overall with the TLX GT, setting a class record with a time of 9:27.352. James Robinson’s 10:02.448 was good for fourth in the Time Attack 1 class, setting a Hybrid record in his NSX. And Nick Robinson’s TLX A-spec set a new course record for front-wheel drive cars on the mountain, posting a 10:48.094.
“It was tough, because on Sunday, race day, there was a real threat of precipitation in the morning, which is a little unusual there,” Nick explains. “If we had any kind of wetness on the course, it was going to be probably impossible to get the front-wheel drive record. So that was a little nerve-wracking on Sunday morning, just because basically we’ve spent the whole year preparing the car to do this one thing. We needed the weather to cooperate, and it was a little touch-and-go as we were getting ready. But finally, it worked, and so we were okay.”
“I’m very satisfied with the result,” James adds. “Our focus was, of course, the team getting solid results for Acura, so I think this year was a very good year for Acura being able to set three new course records.”
But even still, there’s still plenty left to accomplish for the Acura team in 2019 and beyond.
“For me personally, I was happy to re-set the Hybrid Powertrain Course Record, but I still have some unfinished business there,” James concludes. “I would like to get into the nines, if possible, and even though we are actually doing this with a modified mass-production street car, I think it’s possible. I’d really like to try and do that before I officially hang up my helmet, so hopefully we get a chance to do that next year or in the coming years to do that. But I think overall, as a team, it was a great result, and I’m very happy with how things panned out for us.”
“We’ve got a little seed idea for something to propose (for 2019),” Nick admits. “But we work and play at the pleasure of our executives at Honda R&D, so we’ll see what they want us to do.”