Peak Performance: Part 5—Behind the Scenes
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!
For a race like the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, where a full year’s worth of work is often distilled into less than 10 minutes of racing from start to finish, there are countless nuances that come into play. In our final installment of Peak Performance, Acura’s three new PPIHC record holders address some of the specifics of the event:
More than just cars
Running well at Pikes Peak isn’t just about the cars. It takes an incredibly involved and coordinated logistical effort to keep things in motion and running smoothly. As James Robinson explains, having a multifaceted company like Honda proves to be a major advantage in running the program:
“One of the neat things about Pikes Peak is that it’s really out in the middle of nowhere on a mountain, so there’s not really infrastructure there except on the mountain (itself). So Honda is this unique company that can bring all of these different things to bear to make the overall event better. Having ATVs, having side-by-sides, having of course the race vehicles there, but also having power generation makes it kind of a unique, I don’t want to say Pikes Peak is a marketing tool, but it’s definitely a way to show everything we can do.”
A two-year process
Peter Cunningham’s TLX GT has been modified dramatically from its Pirelli World Challenge specifications. At a fairly open-spec event like Pikes Peak, innovation is paramount:
“The rules are pretty liberal on what you can do aero-wise. In 2017, compared to a World Challenge GT configuration, the only things we did were we added louvers on the front fenders, which allowed the air to evacuate better from the front wheelhouses. Then, we took the stock GT3-style wing and, with no rules at Pikes Peak, we moved it back seven inches and up three to get it out of the way and get it to work a little bit better.
“This year, the only thing we did to the rear wing was change the end plates to a larger dimension so they could do more work. In World Challenge trim, you were limited to the number of square inches that your endplates could be on the rear wing. We also put a new front splitter on that didn’t really extend out any further at the center point of the car, but instead of following the contour of the body, it actually bowed out a little bit.
“We also put some revised diveplanes on the car, and we can give credit to HPD and a company called Total Sim that is involved in the Honda IndyCar program. They spent quite a bit of time developing the aero package for us.”
Fearless but calculated
How do drivers handle the treacherous Pikes Peak layout, with its many open corners and opportunities to drive right off the side of the mountain? Nick Robinson explains:
“The big thing, whenever you show pictures or on-board video of the event, is that people get more agitated or disturbed by the exposure, the lack of guardrails and just kind of open free-falls from some of the sections. They ask, ‘how can you even manage that?’
“When you’re driving, you’re completely not looking out the side window, you’re looking at where you want to be, you’re looking at your line, your next clip point, your braking point. So it’s not until you’re coming back down the hill, usually, when you have some free mental space to kind of look around and take in the sights and see, whoa, that looks horrible off to the left or the right here! But when you’re driving up, you’re very hyperfocused. So that’s one face aspect of the race that when the casual observer or family member looks at it, they kind of suck in through their teeth a little bit.
“But that exposure is there, so you do need to drive a little bit differently. And you do need to have, someone might say you have 1-3% margin in circuit racing or 5% for rally driving where you haven’t seen the course before, but up there, you are always thinking about what if the tire goes down, or what if I cut over here on the inside and something happens that throws me. So you kind of always have a contingency plan for what’s going on, and you end up driving a little bit more conservatively in a different environment, a safer environment.”