Seeing Pikes Peak for Myself Made Me Truly Appreciate Its Danger

My first-ever Pikes Peak was filled with drama, excitement, and some kick-ass driving.
Nathan Leach-Proffer

Snaking up Pikes Peak in an Acura TLX Type S, I caught a glimpse of my hands on the steering wheel—grip tight, knuckles white. Even at 25 mph, I felt very aware of how dangerous and frightening this road is. For the Acura drivers Katherine Legge, Paul Hubers, and ZDX pace car driver Coco Zurita, screaming up the hill at over 100 mph was just another day at the office.

The iconic Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is 102 years old now, and while the road has changed a little (dirt’s now paved) the sense of wonder, adventure, and sheer terror are still extremely strong.

Acura has been associated with the Pikes Peak hill climb, in one form or another, for over a decade. Sometimes it’s sent hardcore, purpose-built machines up the hill, in an attempt to break records. Other times, it’s used Pikes Peak as a proving ground for its engineers to test out new performance technologies. Acura has even had the official Pikes Peak pace car before. This year, though, Acura went to Colorado Springs for a little bit of everything.

The honors of piloting the 2024 Acura ZDX Type S pace car went to BMX and time attack athlete Coco Zurita, whose seemingly never-ending enthusiasm kept a smile on his face even as he cooked the 6,000-pound-plus SUV’s brakes up the hill. The pace car doesn’t get clocked like the rest of the Pikes Peak racers. There was nothing he had to prove … well, except for showing off the car’s competence to all of us journalists the company invited. Zurita hauled ass up the treacherous mountain in an electric SUV with the curb weight of an Escalade and street tires to kick off the race. I’d pay good money for even half his courage and optimism.

Then came the long wait, as delay after delay, red flag after red flag, forced Acura’s first driver—Katherine Legge in an HRC-built Integra Type S—to sit around for hours longer than initially planned. 

During that downtime, I had to ask Acura representative Andrew Quillin the simplest of questions: why Pikes Peak? Why spend so much development and marketing money racing up the most dangerous hill climb in the world? It seems to be equal parts a passion project and an engineering exercise. “Acura is a challenger brand—and our associates and engineers really do embrace that challenging spirit. Competition in motorsports, whether it be IMSA or SCCA, gives us the opportunity to fully challenge ourselves and our products—going toe to toe with our competitors. Pikes Peak, in particular, is uniquely rewarding. Its storied history brings global attention and generates a lot of internal excitement within our company. And compared to most other forms of racing, you really only have one shot to get it, right—so it does create the ultimate challenge,” Quillin said. 

At around noon, six hours after she arrived, Legge’s name was finally called. Legge has been racing since she was a child. To call her a motorsport veteran would be an understatement. She’s raced, and continues to race, in the Indy 500, she’s raced in DTM and IMSA, and she’s even helped develop Formula 1 cars. If you can think of a four-wheeled motorsport, there’s a good chance she’s raced it. However, this was Legge’s first-ever Pikes Peak. Even still, simply finishing the 12.5-mile, 4,720-foot hill climb wasn’t the goal. Instead, she wanted to break the front-wheel drive record of 10:48.094, set by Nick Robinson in an Acura TLX A-Spec.  

Legge was initially supposed to start at 9:30 A.M., which would have given her tuned Integra Type S’ engine cool air to breathe up the mountain. However, when she started at noon, the air was hot, thick, and sticky. The exact opposite of what you want in a heavily turbocharged car driving through incredibly thin air, as you reach a 14,000-foot summit. And it showed. 

After Legge’s father waved the green flags, and she stormed off the starting line, there was nothing anyone could do but wait. The entire Acura team—engineers, PR reps, Legge’s dad, and us journalists—sat by the monitors, waiting for her section times to come in. Even as an objective third-party, with no horse in this race, I could feel the drama. More importantly than the times themselves coming in, we all just hoped that the times came in at all. If a section time didn’t show up in time, it could have meant the worst had happened. The emotions of the team were palpable. 

Thankfully, the times came in and Legge successfully made it up without incident. Unfortunately for her and the entire Acura team, the time wasn’t what they’d hoped. A 10:51 run meant she was a few seconds off the front-wheel-drive record. Unexpected heat toward the top of the hill seems like the culprit. But Legge, being a typical professional athlete, said there were countless things she could have done better. 

No matter, Acura had another batter up. About an hour or so later, Paul Hubers, driving a HART (Honda Associates Racing Team) Acura Integra A-Spec, made his third Pikes Peak appearance. Hubers is familiar with the mountain. He’s the one who guided us up the day before, giving us exact turn-by-turn instructions that seemed impossible to memorize. Hubers’ goal was simply to get under 12 minutes. But even his run was filled with drama.

Hubers was doing well, either meeting or exceeding expectations in the first two sectors. Then, he had to stop, turn around, and come back down, as the car in front of him crashed and required a safety crew to remove it. The driver was fine but Hubers had to drive back to the starting line, wait for the all-clear, and try again. Thankfully for him, he treated the first attempt as a practice run and capitalized on it, smashing his expectations on his second run, with a 11:40.736 run. 

The 2024 Pikes Peak overall was a success, not only for Acura. No drivers were seriously injured and Ford won with its hilariously named F-150 Lightning SuperTruck (it’s neither an F-150 Lightning nor a truck). For Acura, all three drivers made it up the hill without issues, one made history in the pace car, and another far exceeded expectations. Will Acura be back next year? Absolutely. And I’m looking forward to seeing what happens.

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