Gallery>> Pikes Peak Day 1: Life In The Middle

The Pikes Peak Hill Climb is an motorsport event like no other. You get one shot at it and that's it. If you mess up, tough luck. There are no redos. This week is the start of the 89th running of the Hill Climb event and it is single handily my favorite event to attend to all year. You can take away Formula D, American Le Mans or even Bonneville. I will choose this very hill climb over any other of those motorsport events. No other event I've attended makes you feel more alive when you walk away from your experience.

The top of Pikes Peak sits at 14,110 feet. There you have only 60% of the usual oxygen you'd breathe at sea level. Every motion is physically taxing at this altitude: walking, talking or even crouching to tie your shoes. You'll be wheezing for air in no time if you don't take things slow. This sense of physical and mental accomplishment at Pikes Peak is the reason why it's one of my things to do before you die.

This year, there are 134 total competitors spanning multiple classes including four different motorcycle classes. But all eyes are on this man and his highly modified Suzuki SX4, Nobuhiro "Monster" Tajima…

…and this man, Rhys Millen and his Hyundai Genesis RMR PM580 (say that five times fast!). Either one of these two are hoping to break the long standing 10 minute barrier this year. 

Pikes Peak is a gigantic mountain and hosts a just as massive hill climb event. For the last two years, I've trekked to the second oldest motor race in America with just one camera. But this year, I've been graced with the presence of Larry Chen. It is his first time on the mountain and he has already taken quite a beating with the lack of sleep and the altitude.

The rest of the week should definitely prove to be a challenge for this Pikes Peak greenhorn.

Practice sessions are split up into three days and the mountain split to three different sections of the mountain: the bottom, the middle and the top. Each section is split for certain classes. Since I was following the unlimited class and the two wheel time attack class, the day one's practice session takes place in the middle section of the mountain –my personal favorite section as I find it to be the most beautiful.

It's hard to tell just how beautiful the mountain is when it is completely dark.

But once the slightest hint of sunlight arrives, the cars are launched for practice.

One of the most striking of the new unlimited classed cars is the 850hp Dacia Duster powered by the new GTR engine.

In the pre-dawn hours, I was graced with the presence of's in house photographer, Drew Phillips. 

Documenting a week of Pikes Peak isn't the easiest thing to do. It's 4 straight days of getting up at 2:30 in the morning, battling the (sometimes) bitter cold and the altitude. It is physically and mentally draining to any person that takes part in the week's festivities.

But once the sun bubbles up from the horizon, all your early morning grogginess is instantly wiped away.

When the sun crests over the horizon in the middle section, the sky turns a bright shade of violet and is contrasted by the sun's yellows and oranges. This violet colored world can only be seen in the middle section during sunrise. No where else on the mountain is there this eerie yet beautiful glow.

Larry grabbed this amazing photo of me shooting Tajima's car as it flies around the mountain side.

And this is my resulting shot.

Rhys Millen's Le Mans prototype-esque Hyundai was looking to be much more dialed in than in years previous. It took corners at lighting speed and shot out of them with a blink of an eye.  

Not every car was a state-of-the-art hill climb space ship. For example, there is this humble little Toyota Corolla.

The Dacia Duster caught the eye of both Larry and myself. It's just a great looking car to shoot.

This SEAT León Supercopa became one of my new favorite cars. It is competing in the two-wheel drive time attack class.

Last year, Jeff Zwart took the 2WD Time Attack class record with a Porsche GT3 Cup car. This year, he has returned with a much more powerful Porsche GT2. The amazing extra little tidbit about this car is that Jeff drove it from Southern California to Pikes Peak, all 1,100 miles of it.

Automotive internet legend, Bill Caswell also makes a return to the hill. Not in his tried and true E30, but instead an E30 M3 powered with a Euro S50 B32!

Formula D veteran, Stephen Verdier, is present on the mountain and can be found piloting this Crawford Performance Subaru Impreza WRX STI.

The Crawford Performance Subaru is quickly becoming another favorite of mine to aim my lens at with its striking livery and gigantic front splitter.

Pikes Peak seemed to be filled with Formula D drivers. Toshiki Yoshioka was attacking the mountain with the Drift Speed S15

Practice starts from sun up (usually 5am) till 9:30 in the morning. In that small time frame, they try to get in as many practice runs as possible. Once everyone has made their practice run, they all head back down to the section starting line to start again. On day one of practice on the hill, they were able to make 5 different runs.

Monster Tajima was looking solid all morning. He drove inches from the edge and took the best lines out of anyone.

But on the other hand, Rhys was also looking solid. Though he didn't have the consistent and aggressive line that Tajima takes, he has a car that shoots around corners at lightning speed and exits out of them in the blink of an eye. Sunday is shaping up to be quite the title fight!

Another unlimited class car to look for this year is Paul Dallenbach's 1307 hp open wheel monstrosity. 

Dallenbach's unlimited car may be the king of the open wheel hill climb machines, but that doesn't mean it was the only one…

There was even this Integra attacking the hill. 

Only in the Pikes Peak middle section are you treated to vistas like this.

This shot of the AMS Evo, which Larry shot, is an optical illusion. It totally looks like it's floating….

My shutter couldn't get enough of the Dacia Duster.

Even Larry couldn't get enough of the Dacia. I'm sure James May is taking a keen eye to all this Dacia loving.

The legendary Rod Millen was looking very comfortable in his son's drift car.

Rhys' Global Rally Cross Hyundai Velsor was also present with Lauchlin O'Sullivan behind the wheel.

Another shot of the SEAT looking stunning.

There was no shortage of media throughout the sidelines.

The great thing about the middle is the grandiose views, the shear drops, and at certain spots on the road, you can look down and see the whole course.

There's a lot of special little things that make the middle section rather magical that the other two sections cannot even match up to.

But for me, it's the purple sunrises win me over.

The first day of practice will probably be the last time I will be visiting the middle section. Day two's practice will be taking place in the top section, day three's will be at the bottom and on race day, I plan to be in the top section again (a place I have not yet been to on race day).

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to head to bed to get as much sleep as I can before that 2:30am alarm starts blaring and it is already 11:30pm –crud.


Speedhunters 2011 Pikes Peak Hill Climb coverage



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Each picture deserves to be a wallpaper.congratulations


awesome photos ! I'm from Romania (Dacia homeland hehehe), and I have to say that it's great to see a race car developed on Duster chassis. Great to see it at Pikes peak ! Great to see it on SpeedHunters ! ;) keep it going guys


I'm Romanian too, and i'm proud that we have a race car that has been made from Dacia's chassis. Nice photos and keep up the good work! Maybe u can take more shots on That Dacia next two days. Keep it up the good work guys!


awesome coverage. brilliant photos. :D


niece work guys, lets go hi res on these!!


I'm French. The Dacia Duster was fully built in France by Tork Engineering, with a VR38DETT GTR's engine tuned by Sodemo (French engine builder) with a Sadev Gearbox, wich is also made in France. Just remember that Dacia is hold by Renault-Nissan Group, and the whole production is located in Romania. Dacia is actualy one of the best selling brand in the world. Agreed with James May they are great cars.


lol i bet linhbergh never wanna sleep if its do-able.


last year was my first visit to pikes peak as lead mechanic for jeff zwart's gt-3 effort and i must say i have never experienced anything as beautiful as those sunrises. yeah the 2:30 am wake ups were a little tiresome but well worth the trouble. wish i could be there again as this year, as it is shaping up to be something special. good luck to jeff, rhys, rod,monster, paul and all the other competitors who make this event so spectactular! experience pike's peak before i die..........check!


Great coverage again! Looking forward to the rest. Great photography allready.


I'm sorry but you got the name wrong of which Lauchlin O'Sullivan is driving.

It's a Veloster not a Velsor.

BTW Being a driving fanatic myself I would love to drive in the pikes peak some day


5th photo - Larry Chen how do you just keep getting better? Thats National Geographic quality...just stunning...both of you actually. This entire series should be desktops.


Wallpapers please :) nice photos


The AMS Evo shot is truly amazing !!!!!!


Very nice


the duster is a beauty! looks so great!


Me too, same as Lucian. and in fact, the Dacia Duster is a great car, it has the looks, it is cheap, is also comfortable. I like it, also the VR38DETT powered Duster


We need a desktop of... well... EVERY PICTURE in this post!! Epic shots!


verry nice shoot ::-))


Great pics!!


awesome pictures!!! especially the 5th picture and the "floating" AMS evo.. these two deserve to made into desktops!


Awesome stuff, this is why I love this site. What a place for a race! Loved the Integra pic, cheers.


Thanks for the epic photos :)


awesome photos guys. any additional info on the 7th gen celica?


fantastic keep up the good work


amazing photos and great story !! your enthusiasm really inspired me to follow the Pike Peak this weekend, since here in the Netherlands it is not a very common thing.

I guess I'll have to switch constantly between the 24Hrs of Nurburgring and Pikes Peak :)


You guys have surpassed automotive photography on this one and creating some flat out stunning art. Well done gentlemen.


Beautiful photos, love the Duster!


Amazing shots.


last year was my first visit to pikes peak as lead mechanic for jeff zwart's gt-3 effort and i must say i have never experienced anything as beautiful as those sunrises. yeah the 2:30 am wake ups were a little tiresome but well worth the trouble. wish i could be there again as this year, as it is shaping up to be something special. good luck to jeff, rhys, rod,monster, paul and all the other competitors who make this event so spectactular! experience pike's peak before i die..........check!


Great post with some great pictures! This really helped me get a great visual of what goes on at Pikes Peak. Keep up the awesome work!


Love the Dacia! I always asociated it with Romania, just don't know any romanian drivers


Absolutely incredible photos. Truly, every single one is wallpaper-able.


Wonderful article Linhbergh, I know how you feel about the whole sleep thing. Practice was great today!


the Pikes peak and bonneville covers from speedhunters is my favorites.


Awesome pics... love the one with the AMS EVO. Great Stuff!!

Yur hard work pays off big time to us readers!!


This is crazy there are a lot of big competitor!


Love the angles, framing and different PoV. Gr8 report. That Hyundai looks stunning.

This is definitely one of my fave' events to go on some day.



Nice work Larry and Linhbergh, amazing photos as usual!


Enjoy your weekend, The pictures are amazing, but i bet the real thing is even better, the sights and sounds of these beats climbing for the record.


BUT it is Paved!


did it take corners at lighting speed and shoot out of them with a blink of an eye?


What an absolute stunning place to race cars. I've been to the Daytona 500, Le Mans 24 Hours and the Monte-Carlo Rally but this hillclimb is just staggeringly beautiful. Great story, awsome photography!


Awesome shots, well done.


Amazing shots.


the Dacia Duster & the SEAT León Supercopa both look very capable from the photos. - great write up - Thanks.


wow is it possible to get a shot that doesn't look good from this place?!

all the pictures looks surreal...nice post

and ill be hoping for a few desktops from the Pikes Peaks coverage!!!!


Stunning work from Lihnbergh and Larry...keep it up guy's.


OMG that mountain shot is AMAZINGGGGGGGG and that suzuki looks sick!