Pikes Peak from a BMW perspective
The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is a long-standing tradition in Colorado Springs and the second oldest motorsport event in the United States. An annual happening since 1916, this year marks the 85th running of the 'Race to the Clouds' and the 91st anniversary of this historical event.
This year, the race will take place on Saturday 21 July and 25,000 spectators are expected to cheer on the brave riders and drivers who attempt to scale this 12.42-mile (20-km) course that begins at 9,390 feet (2,862 metres) and finishes at the 14,110-foot summit (4,300 metres) of the spectacular Pikes Peak Mountain. As the competitors climb toward the summit, the thin air slows reflexes and saps muscle strength – plus it also robs engines of 30 per cent of their power at the summit. Therefore, riders and machines must be in top shape simply to finish – let alone win!
This year's race has 11 classes and features cars, trucks, quads and motorcycle categories. For the first time, BMW Motorrad Motorsport is bringing its new HP2 Megamoto to this historic race and has a line-up of experienced riders, all hoping that they will be the fastest on two wheels up this awe-inspiring mountain in the Colorado Rockies. But what's it like to actually compete at this hill-climb, where a combination of bravery, outstanding riding skills and perfect machine set-up are vital for any chance of success? The BMW Motorrad Motorsport riders offer their own thoughts on this famous event.
Gary Trachy was the winner of last year's race and will be hoping to better his record time of 11:46.84. He currently runs a supermoto riding school and is looking forwards to returning to defend his title on the HP2 Megamoto.
"Pikes Peak is very special for me – the mountain, the people and the history of the race – and I look forward to this event like no other. Every moment is exciting, right from when practice starts. We wake up at 3am and drive to the start line, and just as the sun comes up we start up the bikes and speed up the hill. It's a very different place from Erzberg; for a start it has asphalt, but ultimately it is different because the dirt is very flat and slick. Erzberg has sections just like Pikes Peak, but with rocks all over the place.
"I'm really looking forward to riding the HP2 Megamoto because the suspension and brakes are much better for the pavement and ultimately in the dirt once a blue groove develops. The Megamoto was made to be "King of the Mountain! It handles so well, yet has so much power and you can really throw it around. It is better suited for the high-speed demands of Pikes Peak because is fast and smooth, and I am training now to make sure I don't get altitude sickness at Pikes Peak – that's the last thing you need with the increased speed and demands of the Megamoto.
"The weather can change dramatically here; in fact last year the bikes went before the cars and when it started snowing the cars were only able to make it three quarters of the way up for their run. Interestingly, there are spectators all the way up to the top and when you are racing, you sometimes see somebody way up in a tree or on top of some rock and you wonder just how they got up there.
"To stand any chance of success at Pikes Peak you really have to push yourself. I have fallen a few times and went off the track once. I was lucky that where I went off was relatively safe. Success is about being in control, but also on the verge of being out of control – you really need to know where you are and also where you can go fast, because time is lost very easily and one mistake can lose you the race. I think tyre selection will end up being one of the most important things for us this year and I think a 'rain' front tyre will be the best choice. In the past I ran rain front and rear tyres, but this year we have an added asphalt section that will possibly allow us to run grooved slicks. I think my record time will be broken if the weather works in our favour."
Gary's brother Greg won the Supermoto class last year and came third in the overall rankings. He has been a stuntman for the past 10 years, mostly working on car stunts for movies such as The Dukes of Hazzard, Talladega Nights, and more recently the upcoming Borne movie. Although he loves sliding, drifting, flipping and crashing cars, he is serious about his motorcycle racing and has won at Pikes Peak three times (in 1996, 1999 and 2006) and has finished second four times. A real BMW fan, he currently has three early 1960s bikes (an R 69 S, R 60 and R50) and thinks that the design and feel of a Boxer twin is like no other. His ambition for this year? To break his brother's course record…
"Pikes Peak is a special event because it is one of those races like the Isle of Man TT, Dakar Rally, Baja 1000, and Erzberg, that just have such a mystique because of the obvious danger level, the elements, and the fact that they only take place once a year. Like Erzberg, Pikes Peak is scarily fast and has big cliffs that you do not want to go off the edge of, but it's different because it is about half paved and half dirt, with a much smoother surface. I learned a lot at Erzberg – mostly about the capabilities of the HP2. The track was so fast and there were big rocks, but the dirt was different. There was mud, sand, hard pack and very rocky sections, but the HP2 just kept surprising me in how well it worked in all the different conditions.
"I think the Megamoto's design will work fantastic at the Peak and being able to run with 17-inch wheels will work well on the paved and dirt sections. Traditionally, my brother and I have always raced carburated bikes, so the horsepower lost in the 5000-ft change in elevation has been drastic. However, that will not be the case with the Megamoto, and the extra 70 plus horsepower will be awesome! At Pikes Peak you can definitely feel the altitude change on your body. Gary and I usually like to be there a few days early and spend time at the top of the mountain to try and acclimatise. The weather changes very quickly up there though. You can start in the sun, hit rain at the halfway point and then have snow at the top.
"This is all just another extreme aspect of an extreme race though and I have had several close calls over the years. At the speeds we are going now the road gets very skinny, and at the edge is a 50-3,000-ft drop-off! I was battling for the lead one year when my handlebars got locked with the other rider's. We were going about 100 mph (160 km/h) towards this turn with a 3,000-ft drop on the outside. At the last second we were able to break apart and turn. We were both happy to see the finish!
"Success at Pikes Peak is really about finding a balance between what is a good paved set-up and what is a good dirt set-up, and I think that is where a bike like the HP2 Megamoto will really shine. I believe the Megamoto will require a little more fluidity in the rider inputs because we will be carrying so much more speed but the power delivery is awesome and I can't wait to have so much on my side for trying to break my brother's record!"
Last year, BMW made its first appearance at the US hill-climbing classic race and came away with excellent results on the HP2 Enduro. Californian Casey Yarrow won the Exhibition Class (for motorcycles above 750cc) with a time of 12:20.951 and placed fifth overall.
"To me, Pikes Peak is special because it has been held for many years and it's a race I've watched since I was a kid. Last year, Simo Kirssi and I raced the HP2 Enduro, so now I'm looking forward to the opportunity to ride the Megamoto. It's already set up with 17-inch wheels and a dual front brake, so this should work a lot better on the pavement. I don't really think that the race's altitude will make a difference to the Megamoto's power delivery – because of the fuel injection BMW has the bike mapped out to work up the whole hill.
"I don't think I'll have to adapt my riding style for the Megamoto as the bike should feel pretty similar. It should already be equipped with 17-inch wheels so rain tyres are probably all we would need. The weather can change dramatically there and last year the rain came in hard. I haven't had any 'near misses' at Pikes Peak yet, which is a good thing, as there is no run-off room! I'm looking forwards to returning again this year and it's good to see spectators around every corner and even more waiting at the top."
Micky Dymond was the most successful of the American riders at this year's Erzberg Rodeo, finishing fourth in the Prologue and sixth in the King's Class race. The 2005 AMA Supermoto Unlimited Champion won at Pikes Peak in 2005 and claimed the overall runner-up spot last year. This year he is enjoying riding BMW's High Performance machines and is hoping to return to the top spot at Pikes Peak.
"Erzberg was a great chance for me to learn the HP2. I really like the bike and in competition I feel much more at home now. Pikes Peak is a legendary race in the USA – second only to the Indy 500 – but unlike Erzberg, it has approximately five miles of asphalt and therefore requires different tyres. The speeds are higher and so the penalties for mistakes are greater.
"The new Megamoto is much more suited to the asphalt. It's very fast and confidence inspiring, and works like a sport bike, but making the bike good on both dirt and road is the key to success at Pikes Peak. The altitude is an adjustment for the riders as well as the motorcycles, so fitness and preparation are very important. However, the fuel injection system on the Megamoto will keep the bike strong throughout the climb.
"Having the bike set up right is very important for this race and you must make good tyre, gearing and suspension choices. Last year I rode a KTM 560 but this year on the Megamoto I will have much more top speed and performance on the asphalt. The Megamoto will not drop off in the thin air and will pull hard all the way to the top, so this should be a great chance for me to win the Pikes Peak race again, and possibly make a new record run!"
So far, BMW Motorrad Motorsport has already participated in an official test session on the HP2 Megamoto, where the new bike performed better than the HP2 Enduro in the road sections of the course and the team riders were able to do a lot of work on set-up. With another test day planned, all riders are very confident and hoping for decent weather on 21 July, so they can show just what the HP2 Megamoto is capable of achieving in the 'Race to the Clouds'.