Pikes Peak Is Now Open to Automaker Testing. Will This Be the US Version of the Nurburgring?

Manufacturers will be able to rent the Pikes Peak mountain road out for a day to record official Certified Course Times at their own pace. But they won't break records.

The 100th running of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb’s “Race to the Clouds” was held in June and, in case you haven’t heard, the 14,115-foot summit gets a little snowy from time to time. During that event, David Donner drove a Porsche 911 Turbo S and attempted to break the production car Pikes Peak record. Unfortunately for him and his team, the terrible weather prevented him from doing so. However, he recently got a second chance of sorts as one of the first drivers to obtain a Pikes Peak Certified Course Time.

What is a Pikes Peak Certified Course Time? It’s an officially timed lap, sanctioned by the PPIHC, but it has no bearing on the lap records made during the official hill-climb race. Sanctioned test days are held by manufacturers, who can sign up to have their cars take on the iconic hill climb, in a timed event on a date they select.

Lamborghini was the first brand to sign up for an official certified course time back in July, following the initial Race to the Clouds event. Simone Faggioli ran a Lamborghini Urus Performante up the hill and earned a course time of 10:32.064. Donner also got his chance to prove that both he and the car could set the record-breaking time he was looking for back in June. Donner’s time was 9:53.541, set in his 000 “Triple Zero” 911 Turbo.

Here’s where it gets a little bit confusing, though. While those course times are officially sanctioned runs, they don’t actually change any of the official Pikes Peak Hill Climb race day records. So the official production car record at Pikes Peak is still held by Rhys Millen, who drove a Bentley Continental GT back in 2019 and managed a 10:18.488 run up the hill. Even though Donner’s new time is both officially sanctioned and faster than Millen’s time in a production car, it’s Millen who still holds the record.

“While Donner’s time isn’t the same as a race day record, all of us wanted to know what this 911 could do,” said Pete Stout, co-founder of 000 magazine, which sponsored the run. “Fortunately, PPIHC’s new program makes that possible.” 

Why don’t these Certified Course Times replace any race day records? It’s actually pretty simple—to protect the race. Prior to the actual race, teams and drivers have four brutal days of practice, where they’re only allowed to see one section of the course each day. None of the competitors get to see the entire course until they’re actually racing, regardless of weather, with a mountain full of spectators, and with no opportunity to modify or change the car. It’s one of the most grueling race events of the year.

These new certified times are done at the manufacturer’s request because they rent out the road for the day (or days) presumably to skip the weather. There’s no media presence, no fans in attendance, no helicopters flying over, no rough week of practice leading up to the race, and they can make more than one run up the mountain. Manufacturers can have their own crews, shoot their own footage, and ultimately have the freedom to run up the hill as they wish and still have their times officially recorded.

The best way to think of it is like the U.S.’s version of Nürburgring lap times. Manufacturers test their cars there, and while only a few will be record-setters, “designed for the Nürburgring” became shorthand for track-ready and tested. Offering Pikes Peak can open up an entirely new way for manufacturers to test their cars, set individual personal records, and prepare for one of the most challenging, dangerous motorsport events in the world.

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