The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is a breathtaking race to the 4,302 metre (14,115-foot) summit of Pikes Peak mountain in Colorado Springs, USA. First held in 1916, competitors from all over the world challenge the twenty-kilometre (12.42 mile) course with its 156 corners to the top and encounter changeable weather conditions each year. Heroes are born at the summit, records broken and new technology is being developed.
Production type cars, fast looking prototypes and motorcycles are just a few categories of vehicles that daredevils can race. One particular division enjoys a growing popularity; the electric vehicles. The competition is not only a race to the top, it is also a playground for engineers to develop new technologies that at some point may be used in everyone’s car. And most interestingly, it presumably won’t take long before the EVs will outrace the traditional gasoline-powered race cars. Some already do.
The first attempt of a driver challenging the course with an electric vehicle was in 1981 when Joe Ball went uphill with his Sears Electric Car. It took him 32 minutes to complete the journey and that time was bettered to 27 minutes by Ted Jones with his AM. Hale Spl two years later.
When there was a first attempt to initiate a market for EVs in the nineties, a new wave of pioneers halved the division record. That honour came to Katy Endicott, driving a Honda in 1994. A group of Honda employees came up with the idea to build an electric vehicle to participate in the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. The car manufacturer supported the group of enthusiastic engineers with the shell of a car, which looked like a Civic wagon with just two doors. As an ’employee club project’ the participants mostly spent their own time and money in an attempt to write history. The 100hp vehicle was capable of reaching 169 km/h (105 mph) and weighed about 1270 kg (2800 pounds) including the batteries. Endicott completed the course in just under sixteen minutes, which was a great achievement.
In the following nine years the time got bettered eight times by minor improvement. Larry Ragland, an experienced off-road race driver, made it to the summit with a Chevy S-10. He completed the track with his 85kW powered pickup truck exactly twelve seconds quicker than Endicott.
Teruo Sugita shaved another thirteen seconds off the record. The Japanese engineer worked on the Honda piloted by Endicott in 1994. After witnessing that adventure, he wanted to participate himself. Five years later he joined with a Honda EV Plus Type R, breaking the previous time set by Ragland.
Another successful attempt to better the record came from Tim Eckert. He designed and drove his own electric race car called the ER2. Going uphill with little practice, the components worked well but he knew the time could be bettered when the handling of the car would be improved. Unfinished business was taken care of the following year when Jeri Unser steered the ER3 uphill. Being part of the one of the most prominent motorsport families in the United States, she trimmed nearly half a minute off the previous record.
A new best time was set in 2010 when the first modern electric road cars became commercially available. The EV Sports Concept HER-02 piloted by Ikuo Hanawa chopped the record by more than a minute to 13.17,575 minutes. The Japanese driver demonstrated the abilities of the electric drive train again the following year, improving by almost a minute with the 200kW strong prototype vehicle.
Toyota Motorsport meanwhile was setting records with its electric TMG EVP002 in Europe and eyed for setting a fast time at Pikes Peak too. With the complete course now being paved, driver Fumio Nutahara managed to smash the earlier set record by a full two minutes. Pikes Peak legend and multiple winner Nobuhiro Tajima was the first to break the ten-minute barrier with his E-Runner Pikes Peak Special the following year.
Who thought that this record was about to stay was clearly wrong. Mitsubishi had been competing as well and made improvements to their i-MiEV Evolution III with the aim to win. Not just in its category, but they made an attempt to top the overall results. Six-time Pikes Peak motorcycle champion Greg Tracy accepted the challenge to complete the 12.42-mile course with the upgraded 450kW strong i-MiEV. The American driver set a stunning time of nine minutes and eight seconds and was just 2,4 seconds off Romain Dumas who took the overall win with a gasoline powered vehicle.
It took electric vehicles just twenty years to reduce the time spent on the mountain from fifteen minutes to nine. Although started at the first development of motoring, the same improvement took vehicles equipped with combustion engines more than seventy years. A great advantage for electric cars is that it doesn’t lose performance at high altitudes. However the ultimate record set by Sebastien Loeb in 2013 – racing the Peugeot 208 T16 Pikes Peak – of eight minutes and thirteen seconds remains tough to beat.
Drive eO will attempt to break the nine-minute barrier for electric vehicles, aiming to become the first overall winner of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb with a 1020kW (1367 hp) strong electric vehicle. The eO PP03 has a 50 kWh lithium-ion battery pack on board and is propelled by six YASA-400 electric motors with in-house developed eO controllers. Former winner and record holder Rhys Millen will pilot the eO PP03 on Sunday, June 28, 2015 in Colorado Springs, USA.