Race Report: Experiencing the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb with  TAG Heue
Cars & motorsport

Race Report: Experiencing the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb with TAG Heuer

The official chronometer of Pikes Peak 2018, TAG Heuer’s chronograph technology pairs perfectly with the works done by car manufacturers. Advanced technologies – both automotive and horological – saw tests of this limits in a race to the top.

By Vincent Daveau

To start this story well, we need to place this mystical automotive event in its context. The race of the coast, known as the Broadmoor Pikes Peak International Hill Climb was first born in 1916 in Colorado by Spencer Penrose initiative. Penrose, the owner of an important regional hotel, also funded the development of the road accessing the top of the mountain. They needed to advertise the place – and what better promotion than organizing a competition to measure champions, half-drivers and half-mechanics of talent? 

The first winner of this challenge – Rea Lentz – reached the summit in 20 minutes 55 seconds and 6 tenths. Pikes Peak is the third oldest official car competition still active in the United States. Its 19.93 km long route, which includes 156 bends, all of which are more dangerous than the last, makes it a monument of sinuosity to which many drivers want to compete with each other. But the principal difficulty is the danger of the course, it starts at 2,865 meters above sea level and reaches the summit at 4,302 meters. Those conditions coupled with extremely challenging weather, plus combustion engines seeing their power decreasing significantly as the climb to the top progresses and the oxygen becomes thinner.

From Yesterday to today

The 2018 edition of the Pikes Peak race ran on June 24th. Watchonista was present to see 36 pilots and their teams compete in the annual challenge. The race format was divided into fifteen smaller categories from thermal and electric motorcycles to quads, along with cars that are also thermal or electric. We experienced an exhilarating day of racing punctuated by road exits and accidents. 

Three-time winning French driver, Romain Dumas’s sought to “break the watts” and snatch a fourth victory.  Measuring his time? TAG Heuer, of course, the official timekeeper of Pikes Peak since 2016. However, the importance of this partnership runs nearly a century deep, being that the race was born the same year that the Swiss watch brand launched its famous Mikrograph chronograph. Capable of measuring time to one hundredth of a second.

To reach the clouds, a race to the top

In 2013, Sébastien Loeb, the nine-time world rally champion, swallowed the 19.93 km race track by taking 156 turns in 8 minutes and 13 seconds with a thermal vehicle.

This year, all the participants and the public, crowded the track at dawn defying the cold of the mountains and altitude to follow the competition. While waiting for races to start, the second favorite activity is to go through the stands and discover the cars on display. Being in this moment, you can immensely feel the adrenaline rush. 

All eyes that day were on the Volkswagen prototype in the Unlimited class. The car wanted to make sparks and at the wheel: Romain Dumas. The day before, we were given the latest TAG Heuer Monaco Chronograph Caliber 11 Special Edition Gulf to time the race. 

After reaching the top after 156 turns, we felt our heads spinning not because of the loops made to reach the finish, but because of the lack of oxygen. At this precise moment, it was clear that this race has nothing in common with all others, because, in addition to affecting the performance of the engine, it also puts a strain on the pilots who must be suffocating in their helmets because of the concentration and the lack of air. Driving while experiencing a kind of apnea is not easy especially with turns followed by dodging deep ravines at more than 100 miles an hour. Just for that, hats off!

A race against the clock

In this competition, timing is everything. The goal is, of course, to climb as fast as possible and to break the last record with the sharpest machine in your category. And this is a lot of risk for the pilots ready to take down the clock. As it happens, this year, the race experienced falls and turns took at a wholly delirious speed. The competition made it clear to everyone that the history of the automobile would undoubtedly, too, take a certain inflection… One of the Volkswagen storming, focusing on the road to reach the summits. 

By luck, the few tenths of a second it takes the eye to perceive the object and the brain to send an action to take were perfectly coordinated and the shutter curtain opened just as the car was passing through the field swept by the focus. A nice coincidence when we know that the distance between the objective and the car was less than 100 meters and that the speed of the machine coming in front, exceeded on this stretch of road, at nearly 300 kilometers per hour!

The loop was complete, but it took a little more than three hours of waiting at a strategic spot in the trail for the chance to take spot the 2018 winner. The Monaco Calbre 11 chronograph felt at home in this environment. But after all, it’s the purpose of this watch brand to be always at the forefront of watching AND racing. This victory certified by the central placed TAG Heuer logo at the start/finish line. Measurement devices located on the edges of the circuit, allowed TAG Heuer to raise the achievement of Romain Dumas aboard his electric car: 7 minutes 57 seconds and 148 thousandths. In short, TAG Heuer with its sense of precision and thanks to their tools, the most exact in the market, also entered history by timing the new record. Certainly a #DontCrackUnderPressure moment.

“It’s terrifying! we really have accomplished a performance that goes beyond what we could hope”, said Romain Dumas. 

“Since the first trials, we knew that it was possible to break this record. For this, we just needed everything to work perfectly: The car and the pilot. But I still cannot believe that we realized such a timing. This car is really the most impressive that I ever drove in a competition. The transmission of an electric car is really different, and I learned a lot by completing this project with Volkswagen. " Dumas continued. (Quote source: AFP)

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