What is the Pikes Peak Hill Climb and How Can I Watch?

The 100th running of the Broadmoor Pikes Peak International Hill Climb takes place this Sunday, June 26. Drivers of all manner of wheeled vehicles will take their turn ascending to the summit of Pikes Peak in Colorado, trying to break the current record held by Volkswagen and its electric I.D. R Pikes Peak racer since 2018.

The course is 12.42-miles long and rises almost 5,000 feet starting at Mile 7 on Pikes Peak Highway. The hill climb used to feature both paved and gravel surfaces, making the drive more multidimensional, but since 2011 the entire route has been paved. It has an average grade of a steep 7.2 degrees.

The event has taken place since 1916, missing a few years in the middle because of World War I and World War II. It's hosted and organized by the Pikes Peak Auto Hill Climb Museum.

There are several divisions of vehicles that race, each competing against its own class, but also going for an overall victory, which usually comes from the fastest Unlimited class.

Pikes Peak Jeff Zwart
Jeff Zwart, driver of the #111 Porsche GT3 Cup, practices for the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images

History

The first event was promoted by Spencer Penrose, who converted the carriage road into the much wider Pikes Peak Highway. Penrose made his money in mining and speculation in the American West, settling on Colorado Springs. Penrose also opened a resort called The Broadmoor, a spot that served drinks in a notoriously dry county.

The Penrose Trophy was awarded to the fastest driver for the first few years. It went to Rea Lentz with a time of 20 minutes, 55.6 seconds in 1916, Otto Loesche twice along with King Rhiley, Noel Bullock and Glen Shultz before it was eliminated after the 1924 race.

Pikes Peak open wheel
Ikuo Hanawa, of Japan, driver of the #8 Summit HER-02, practices for the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images

Classes

There are six divisions for Pikes Peak racers including Unlimited, Time Attack 1, Porsche Pikes Peak Trophy by Yokohama, Open Wheel, Pikes Peak Open and Exhibition.

The Unlimited class is for any vehicle as long as it passes safety inspection and meets PPIHC's general rules. It features the most exotic vehicles, purpose-built for the race.

Time Attack 1 is for production-based two- and four-wheel drive vehicles. However, only closed cockpit four-wheeled vehicles are allowed. Pikes Peak Open is also for production vehicles, but with unlimited permitted modifications.

Porsche Pikes Peak Trophy by Yokohama made its debut in 2018 and features only the Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport in its four variants including the Clubsport, Clubsport Trophy Specification, Clubsport MR, and Clubsport 2017 IMSA GS.

Open Wheel is for traditional single-seat race cars ranging from old Indycar styles to dune buggies. The class has been around since the first year of the event. The Exhibition class keeps with the spirit of the event, "demonstrating advancements in the practical application of motorsports technology."

Pikes Peak Hill Climb
Romain Dumas of France, driver of the #911 Norma Norma M20FCPP, practices for the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images

Special Cars

The event always features a few special cars, sometimes prototypes, other times limited editions. The current record holder is the VW I.D. R an electric prototype with bodywork built for ultrafast single laps. It took the overall record in 2018 with a time of 7 minutes, 57.148 seconds. The I.D. R also holds the record at the Goodwood Hill Climb.

Last year a few modified versions of the Tesla Model S Plaid ran up the hill. This year Nissan is bringing an electric Leaf built for the track and Porsche has a special 911 Turbo S that wants to capture the production car record.

Pikes Peak open class
Greg Tracy, driver of the #34 Mitsubishi MiEV Evolution II, races up the mountain during the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images

Weather and Terrain

Because Pikes Peak rises several miles from sea level, temperatures and weather plays a huge factor in the race. Last year the top third of the mountain was closed due to snow. When that happens the winner is whoever completed the open parts the fastest.

Cold pavement reacts to tires differently than warm pavement too, which has to be adjusted for different pressures. Sometimes it rains and sometimes there's fog.

Pikes Peak winner
Sebastien Loeb, of France, driver of the #208 Peugeot 208 T16 Pikes Peak, crosses the finish line setting a record time of 8:13.878 during the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images

Dangers

There have been seven deaths during Pikes Peak competition over the 99 events run so far. Four of them happened on motorcycles with the most recent in 2019 when rider Carlin Dunne went off the road in the final section. Two years later two-wheel vehicles were banned from the event.

A driver was killed in practice in 1921. Ralph Chandler Bruning Jr. was killed when he went off the road at 80 mph and struck a tree in 2001. Pikes Peak official Henry J. Bresciani was killed during practice in 2005.

There are at least three spots with no guardrails on the outside. Pikes Peak ace and former champion Jeff Zwart calls it "the only living racetrack."

Pikes Peak sidecar
Japanese rider Masahito Watanabe and his copilot cross the finish line at the summit of Pikes Peak mountain during The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb JOE KLAMAR/AFP via Getty Images

How to Watch

Tickets for the event are sold out but anyone can watch the 100th Pikes Peak International Hill Climb for free at the Mobil 1 Facebook page. The official climb starts at 9:30 a.m. Mountain time, or 11:30 a.m. Eastern.

If you can't get it there, Colorado Springs news station KRDO will broadcast it over the radio and online at its website.