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Homebuilt Contraptions Beat the Fancy Pants Porsches at Pikes Peak

By Mark Vaughn @autoweek August 30, 2020, 8:19 PM PDT

There’s no way this should have happened, no way that an entire division of German engineers working for years to create the half-million-dollar 700-hp 911 GT2 RS Clubsport should ever have been beaten by a guy who built what looks like maybe a T-Bucket roadster with a dust pan on the front.

“In this corner, one thousand of the best German engineers ever assembled, with computers bigger than your garage using computational fluid dynamics and finite-element analysis to create the greatest and most powerful customer race car in the world - the 911 GT2 RS Cluuuuuubsport! And in this corner, a guy from five miles away who went down the street to his dad’s garage and built a car with him. Are you ready to rummmmmbbbbbblllleeeeeee?????”

Photo credit: Larry Chen Photography/PPIHC

And the mountain rumbled (or was that thunder?). This is Pikes Peak, where dreams come true and no one cares how much computing power you have in R&D back home in Zuffenhausen.

Some years Pikes Peak is a big, international affair with all-out efforts by European manufacturers to set a new record at all costs. Other years it sort of returns to the fun local event it usually is, just another race in the Colorado Hill Climb Association’s calendar. This year, while Porsche did bring a squadron of powerful race cars with an equally talented platoon of drivers, the mood of the race was that of a fun, local event, but without the usual throngs of spectators, and held two months later than normal because of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

That didn’t stop former part-time NASCAR Busch Series racer Clint Vahsholtz from winning the race overall with a time of 9:35.490. Vahsholtz is the middle generation of three generations of Pikes Peak racers. He’s run here every year since 1992, winning his class more than 20 times but never the race overall. He lives in Woodland Park, which is maybe five or six miles away from the starting line as the crow flies.

The amazing thing about Vahsholtz is the “car” he drove. While there were incredible, high-tech Porsches in the starting lineup, from Jeff Zwart’s modern 935 to David Donohue’s 911 GT2 RS Clubsport, Vahsholtz drove what looked like a bathtub with a snow shovel on the front end and a large package shelf poking up out the rear. Officially it’s called a “2103 Ford Open,” but you could be forgiven if you called it “The Contraption.” Whatever you call it, the damned thing won.

“I charged hard,” Vahsholtz said at the top, speaking to local radio and TV station KRDO, which did a terrific job of covering the event. “I got to a few places where I didn’t feel as comfortable as I would have liked, the middle section was slick, but my dad’s always said, ‘Just drive it quick.”

That he did, beating other local-boy-made-good and multi-generation racer Paul Dallenbach by just 0.691 second. Dallenbach has won at Pikes Peak nine times before. This year, for the 14th year, Dallenbach was driving his own “contraption,” listed on the timing sheet as a “2006 PVA-03 Dallenbach Special.”

“Let’s be honest, this is a Wells Coyote, this is a dirt car that we almost won overall,” Dallenbach said at the top. “It has Menard’s power. The engine is a 25-year-old IndyCar engine.”

The combination was almost enough to win the whole thing. But Dallenbach said the road was slick in spots.

“It was slick, I was really loose,” he said. “So much so that I thought there was something wrong with my wing.”

He kept it all on the course and almost won. Just a little over half a second separated him from Vahsholtz after 12.42 mountain miles and 156 turns.

“I’ve won this race by a half a second a couple times, to lose it by half a second hurts. But we’re all dealing with the same road. He (Vahsholtz) pushed it a half a second harder than I did. That’s what it comes down to.”

Photo credit: Larry Chen Photography/PPIHC

The finishing order was a bit of a surprise because of all the Porsches that were running. The quickest of which—in qualifying at least—was the 911 GT2 RS Clubsport of Le Mans, Grand-Am and NASCAR driver David Donohue, son of Mark. His was one of two GT2 RS Clubsports on the mountain this year, the other driven by past Pikes Peak winner and Colorado resident David Donner.

In the qualifying section of the mountain Donohue clocked a 3:55.942, Donner a 3:59.702 compared to Vahsholtz’ 4:02.986 and Dallenbach’s 4:08.298. Given that, it looked like Donohue would clean up. But, as they say, the mountain decides. And this year the mountain decided to give Donohue a flat tire that took him out of the race about halfway up the hill at Glen Cove. Then Donner launched off the line looking strong, too, but finished just over a second off the winning pace with a 9:36.559.

Open-wheel racer Cole Powelson and Porsche 935 pilot and filmmaker Jeff Zwartrounded out the top five.

In all, seven drivers broke the once-mythical ten-minute mark this year. Three Tesla Model 3s entered the race, too. Privateer Blake Fuller finished highest among them with an 11:02 in a car that he drove to Colorado from Florida. He should get some kind of award for just doing that, with four sets of tires and all his laundry in the back.

But two of the three Teslas crashed during practice. Time trials racer Joshua Allan suffered four compressed vertebrae in his crash and was out for the weekend. Road racer Randy Pobst was unhurt in his crash but his car was severely damaged. Both Pobst’s and Allan’s cars were prepared by a Hawthorne, Calif. tuner called Unplugged Performance.

Unplugged took Pobst’s car and, using a donor car, lots of ingenuity and two all-nighters in a row, built a new race car for Sunday. Pobst looked strong in the first timed section, then seemed to slow, at least looking at the live timing and scoring charts, and wound up finishing two seconds behind Blake at 11:04.

“Something happened about halfway up. Like a quarter of the way into it it went to about half power,” Pobst said. “But the handling was fantastic.”

So was the weather. Pikes Peak often looks sunny in the morning then turns into thunderstorms and hail in the afternoon. Sometimes it even snows. Some years they stop letting the cars run all the way to the top. But this year, while a bit cold in the morning—it was below freezing and delayed the start an hour because of ice at the finish line—race day turned out to be beautiful all the way through. With only 44 cars entered, and no motorcycles (due to the tragic death of rider Carlin Dunne last year) the whole event was wrapped up by 1:00.

The 2020 event was the 98th running of The Race to the Clouds. It’s been going since 1916, 104 years, with interruptions for World Wars. As you probably know, Pikes Peak was all-dirt for most of its existence, which made it quite the challenge for drivers, tire manufacturers and the guy jetting the carbs. The road has been fully paved since 2011.

The all-time quickest run was accomplished two years ago when Volkswagen used it to show off its new electric car technology in the form of the I.D.R in 2018. That year Romain Dumas set what may be the record for quite a while with a 7:57.148.

But maybe someone will break even that. If the mountain decides it’s OK.



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