Travis Pastrana Talks About Racing Pikes Peak and Flying Upside Down

We had a moment to chat with the motocross star before he races this year’s Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in a Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport.

byJames Gilboy|
People photo


The Drive got a chance to catch up with motocross legend-turned-racing driver Travis Pastrana before this year's Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, in which he will compete using a Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport. In a quick Q and A session, we talked about Pikes Peak, the future of Pastrana's racing career, and what it's like to fly through the air upside down on a motorcycle.

The Drive: This opportunity to race in the new Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport class, was it something you sought out, or had fall into your lap?

Travis Pastrana: "A little bit of both. Nitro Circus has a really awesome deal with Yokohama, where Yokohama came and said, 'You got a lot of guys are getting into car racing and off-road trucks, and all this other stuff, plus it's kind of a younger market, so what eventually do you really wanna do?' So, one of the motocross guys, was like, 'I really wanna do One Lap of America,' so we both did that together, and then I was like, man, I want a shot at Pikes Peak!"

"I came up here right as I was starting my rally career, basically 14-15 years ago. This is kind of a bucket list race, and at the same time, I'm like—I'm not gonna go for the record, not that I could get it—but you're gonna need to kind of warm up if you go on this mountain, what do you guys think the best class is know, we got some good drivers, there's some talent, like there are some people that are gonna definitely push me that I can learn from in a vehicle that handles well, like a mid-engined vehicle."

"Good competition, good challenge, and really, this is perfect how this is all coming [together], like this is exactly what we actually have. We’ve got a mid-engined car, it's not…I shouldn't say not much much horsepower, but compared to the thousand-horsepower beasts that are gonna be ripping up the mountain, I think we’re actually gonna surprise a lot of people with the time this thing can put down."

James Gilboy

TD: How did Jeff Zwart’s training help you learn the Cayman and the course?

TP: "Jeff's biggest help was honestly learning the course. Obviously, Jeff has a lot of experience, and he's seen every way to go off of this mountain—every way to mess up. The mountain'll give us new ways to mess up, sure."

"I had a co-driver that was telling me so, kind of get this memorized, and really point out the spots like 'hey, watch out for this, and when you see this, it's not that corner,' because there are so many corners that look almost identical, some with thousand-foot drops on the other side, some that you can pretty much hold it wide open on."

TD: On the contrary, what was Jeff unable to prepare you for? What did you find out only by trying to race up the mountain?

TP: "At the end of the day, it basically comes down to [the fact that] someone can tell you what to do, but it's always changing, every driver's a little bit different, so for me I have the car set up even different than J.R. Hildebrand, obviously we were real close on times for qualifying, but to be teammates, you know we have a base setting that Zwart was instrumental in getting us, but we had to take it from there, and really make it our own."

"Jeff comes up with the base setup for pretty much every Porsche from the ground up, as well as the Yokohamas. [It's] awesome that everyone's on the same tire, it’s probably the most well-balanced tire, because Jeff was telling me two years ago he was at the bottom it was almost 70 degrees, and he had snow at the top, so he was like, 'literally there was like a couple inches built up on the car after we parked,' so a tire that can go and the temperature as you go higher it’s gonna expand, so it does different things than it would at say, a circle track. So, just for him to have that knowledge on Yokohamas and Porsches really helped this program get off to—I think—a really good start."

TD: How did you modify Jeff's base setup to better fit your driving style?

TP: "At the very beginning, my first run up the mountain, I was like, 'I really want better turn-in.' I don’t mind if a car's a little bit softer, and I like that rally feel, I really want to be able to maneuver the car, so we took it from basically what was a road setup—even though it is a road—to more of a rally setup where we soften the front, we give it a bit more roll, and honestly at the end of the day I ended up stiffening the rear so I could get that thing to slide more."

"I want that thing to be able to point wherever I'm going, and I can figure the rest out with throttle control. There's enough power, it feels like a go-kart when I'm up there. It should be easier to drive, but it’s easier to correct when you make a mistake."

TD: You placed second in class in qualifying, do you think you can perform better in the race itself?

TP: "Yeah, so we were four tenths off in qualifying, which is not much, but I was two and a half seconds faster than anyone on the middle, and then [Mike] Skeen, who was quickest on top in the fog, who was faster by a significant [margin], so if you take all three times, it’d actually be Skeen, then me, then J.R. [Hildebrand] in the overall, so qualifying does mean a bit, but unfortunately Skeen put it off today."

"It's a good class, but there are definitely three of us that are gonna be within tenths on any given time up there, so we're going to be pushing really hard, and it’s very possible that we are pushed so hard that we make mistakes, or do what Skeen did today."

TD: Could you find a couple tenths out on the mountain depending on weather and road conditions, or will it be a crapshoot?

TP: "I hope we have better odds than a crapshoot, but at the same time, none of us guys got a chance to drive the top. It was at speed, but it was foggy; you couldn’t see anything. Maybe the whole thing'll be foggy, maybe there'll be rain. At the end of the day, take me, a dirt driver: if it's raining and muddy, great, but [I have] not as much experience on pavement. If it rains, that's kryptonite for me, that’s really bad. But having said that, the conditions are gonna be changing, and that's kind of good for a rally driver."

TD: As far as your own race result goes, do you have a target? Win your class, finish under 11, under 10?

TP: "These cars haven't had a class up here, this is their first year, so there's no real benchmark set."

"There are eight guys that are good that are driving, and there's five that I think could set a really amazing time, and I think there's three that if you win with this field, you're gonna have a time that's gonna be tough to beat."

TD: Because of the altitude, power, downforce, and management of component temperatures like tires, engine, and brakes gets more difficult as you get higher on the mountain. How does this impact how you drive the race?

TP: "It's interesting because tire temps that normally come up as you're going sometimes go down, because temperature [changes] can sometimes be that drastic, which means when you're thinking the tire temps are gonna be coming up, and you're gonna get more grip, you're actually losing grip, and the tires are expanding because there’s more pressure."

"When it gets to the top, you have to drive differently, because you have less power and less grip, so it's about maintaining that speed, where on the bottom, you've got more power and more grip, so you can charge in really hard, brake really hard, turn in, get back going. It almost feels different where you might not charge in quite as hard, because you don’t have as much grip, but you're slower."

"These cars are so light, and these brakes are so good that that won't be a factor."

Pastrana holds the Mt. Washington Hillclimb record with a time of 5:44.72., Rally Team USA | Subaru

TD: Might you come back to Pikes Peak in the future to compete in another class, such as Time Attack 1 or Unlimited?

TP: "Without a doubt. This has been just an awesome experience. With Nitro and everything that's been going on right now, I don't know that next year would be the year."

"My goal would be to come back in three to four years in hopefully this class, we'll see what else these guys are throwing up here in the future if this continues, but definitely to keep moving to faster cars with more downforce and until I feel like I have a shot at trying to get the record, because right now the two major hillclimbs in the U.S. are Mount Washington and this. I have the Mount Washington record right now, I think before they did the next Mount Washington race, but I would like to potentially come up and try for both of them."

TD: If you were to come back for Unlimited, would you do that with Porsche?

TP: "I think Porsche would probably be willing to do a run to the top. You know, what's interesting is the amount of budget that it's gonna take to go for a winning run would definitely be…I think Porsche would be one of the companies that would do it. I know Red Bull already has it, so it really depends this year a lot on how that VW and that electric goes."

"There's talk now of an F1 team coming out here—I've heard, I'm not saying who, or from what, it's not me for sure."

TD: Not Red Bull or Toro Rosso?

TP: "No, neither of those. But to that, I think this mountain is only going to get more and more popular as more and more different vehicles bite their teeth in. For an electric vehicle to be going for Sebastian Loeb? This is one of the greatest drivers that's ever roamed the earth!"

"In Red Bull, they are willing to throw more money into getting the best time imaginable than anyone, with one of the best drivers that's ever lived. To already have a vehicle that they think can beat that—it is faster on the different stages than Loeb was [...] I think they gotta set the bar for if this gets beat, I think there's gonna be a lot more players coming in."

TD: Romain Dumas said a couple weeks ago that he thinks the I.D. R has the potential to beat the overall record, but that it’s not his goal. Do you think he can break the record?

TP: "If he stays on the road, and doesn't break down… between his car and the driving that he's doing, he's absolutely shattered all of my expectations. I think electric that’s not losing power with altitude is such a huge advantage. So, it's gonna be really interesting."

Pastrana raced the Baja 1000 in 2014 with Menzies Motorsport., BF Goodrich Racing

TD: You spoke earlier of Pikes Peak being one of your bucket list races, do you have any more on that list? Le Mans, Dakar, et cetera?

TP: "I've got a big bucket list. First of all, I've just checked off just finishing up a trick, a double backflip 360 that I've been working on for literally the last six years, and for me, I don’t want to put myself out there without a roll cage again."

"Having said that, this is something that really interests me, and obviously, one wrong turn and that’s the end of it. I understand that there are risks involved in everything, but for me, Dakar's definitely a long event, takes a lot of effort, kind of like the Baja 1000. Both are races that I would like to go for a good performance at, like the Baja 1000, where we actually have a shot to hopefully win it. If that went okay, then I'd talk to some people and think about getting into Dakar."

TD: What goes through your head when you’re upside down on a motorcycle?

TP: "It's interesting because when the first time you do a backflip, your bearings are all gone, and you're just searching, searching, searching for anything you can see and just be normal [sic]. But now, I'm usually it in Nitro, on a snowmobile doing a backflip with a tricycle to one side, and you're high-fiving each other, it's just weird… it's the most odd thing."

"The weirdest feeling I've ever had is when you go and throw your bike over your head. So, you have a 250 pound motorcycle that's over your head, and you look down, and average 35 feet, but there's one jump we have at the house that you're 70 feet off ground level, and you're standing on air, with the dirt bike over your head, and you pull yourself back up to it, and it comes around to land."

"Literally flying through the air is very surreal, even upside down now, when you take off, you look back at the takeoff, which is just an angle, and if there's someone behind you, you're staring them in the eyes as they're taking off."

TD: Is looking for a landing point like looking for your corner entry or turn-in when racing?

TP: "Yeah, I'd say looking for a landing is more or less looking for that blind apex. It's looking for something that's over the crest that you know like the first of three that are kind of blind over to the left when you drop down the back side and you can see the mountain, you're wide open until you can see the mountain, and then you lift. But right before you see the mountain, you’re like, 'Is it fogged over, why is the mountain not there?'"

TD: Is it like those steep, blind uphill corners on Pikes Peak where there's nothing but blue sky ahead of you?

TP: "Yeah, and that's when you're upside down, and you're like, 'the landing's not coming, the landing's not coming,' so it's a lot like those turns. And if you do it enough, then you know it is."

Travis was as welcoming as his reputation portended him to be. We at The Drive wish him good luck at Sunday's race and in his future racing endeavors. To the summit with you.