Friday is the final qualifying day and the starting line is at Devil’s Playground. It’s an amazing sight: the cloud shelf line is below us, so our view of the pits and the mountain is like sitting on the wing of a 747 at cruising altitude. Everyone gets one run in before clouds billow out into a fog unlike anything you have ever seen. Visibility is dropping significantly as the sound of engines coming to life fills the soupy air.
Everyone is shocked to see Romain Dumas and Paul Gerrard pull up to the line. The green flag drops for Romain and he takes off, fading away into the foggy nothingness like a rocket. But the Enviate is held back. The organizers suspend the qualifying, hoping conditions will improve, and everyone hangs out and chats in the pits while waiting.
Paul emerges from the fog asking for his helmet, saying he thinks the weather is lifting; everyone chuckles, because visibility is still nearly zero. Eventually, the qualifying session is canceled completely and the safety crew escorts everyone down the mountain.
Friday night is Fan Fest and a chance for the locals, fans, and racers to hang out. There are people everywhere. Even Ken Block’s Hoonicorn has made an appearance. Engines rev up and crowds cheer. Aric, Cody’s main partner on the Enviate build, also arrives. He designed the four corners of the Enviate and is pleased everything is working well. In his day-to-day life, he works for Sirius XM – another testament to the eclectic nature of this team.
The Enviate represents the best of home grown motorsport. Cody has built the prototype in his small shop, LoveFab, to challenge his fabrication talents. His work resulted in the chassis that convinced Sébastien Lamour to step up and offer his help. Sébastian works in Switzerland as an Aerodynamics Concept Designer for F1 team Sauber Motorsport. When he saw the Enviate’s chassis design in PRI2015’s social media coverage, he knew he wanted to design a body for it. His design then turned into Cody’s first attempt at making a complete carbon fiber body.
Saturday is a day off in the PPIHC schedule; the plan was to do a nut and bolt and rest up for Sunday, but the head gaskets had other plans. Everyone springs into action. The top end is off the engine in moments and multiple hands clean surfaces with razor blades. With twelve hours to go until the race starts, the pressure is high, but you couldn’t tell from the mood. The biggest challenge is figuring out the cassette adapter for the iPod.
Sunday arrives and it’s officially race day. At Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, you get one run. One. And in this case, the four years of building, countless hours, money, and sleepless nights were about to get their one chance to summit. The goal is to finish, but the team’s minds are fully aware of sub-nine minute run required to set a new record.
For many, race day is the first time the drivers get to do the mountain in one continuous run; qualifying, by comparison, happens in four stages over four days. Emotions are clearly running high as the Enviate rockets up the 12.42-mile road, through 156 turns, aiming for the finish line at 14,110-feet above sea level, hitting a top speed of 147-mph, the fastest of the event. But then, with the finish line in sight, the car stalls.
The reason why the engine stalled is a little, say, inconclusive. Based on the aftermath carnage and some data mining, the team’s best guess is that the heads lifted again, pushing gas into the cooling system, which then cavitated the pumps. In laymen terms, the engine boiled off whatever internal coolant remained while doing 147-mph through the Halfway Picnic Grounds; oil temps went north of 300-degrees and the turbos melted the air cleaners off. Add in the low airflow caused by the high elevation and the engine was unhappy and called it quits when Paul decelerated for the last corner.
It’s hard to imagine what passed through Paul Gerrard’s mind in that moment. The car had stalled with the finish line in sight, and it also did not have enough energy to start. In a sheer genius moment, he jammed the transaxle into reverse and rolled backward down the mountain to blindly bump start it. Even with this mishap, he crossed the finish line in 10:19.312, capturing second place in the Unlimited class and 13th out of the 78 vehicles that had hit the starting line. Most importantly, Pikes Peak had been conquered.
So what is next? Torquezillion is waiting for its due attention from Cody and Aric, but the Enviate has a score to settle with Pikes Peak. The data gathered from the run suggests they have a good shot at taking the record, so it’s safe to say there will be a Round Two. Also, the Enviate chassis has the ability to be updated to AWD, which would be bonkers. Cody would love to bring two cars back to PPIHC – both Enviate and Torquezillion – to take on the mountain.
So much to consider, but first, everyone is going to take a quick nap.
About the Author:
Mark Bovey is the owner, builder, and driver of the Targa Truck, a 1971 GMC. It was the first truck to run in the Targa Newfoundland (2014). His love/addiction for open road racing has led to an interest in hill climbs, prompting the trip to the 2017 PPIHC to do research for the future of the Targa Truck.