The air is really thin, due to the high altitude, the starting line is at 7800, and the summit is over 14,000 feet so most drivers use supplementary oxygen to make sure their heads are sharp. Here Dai readies the car’s O2 system.
For Pikes Peak, practice is divided into three segments of the mountain. Qualifying is done on the fast smooth lower segment of the course leading to the Glenn Cove waystation. The next segment starts at the Glenn Cove waystation and goes to the high-altitude Devils Playground parking lot in a steep climb that is mostly switchbacks and hairpin turns. The final segment is from Devils Playground to the summit which is extremely rough with huge scary dropoffs. Practice starts on Tuesday and for us, that means our starting point is at Devils Playground which is at over 12,000 feet. As a crew, we hate this stage. It is freezing cold and hard to breathe. Practice runs from first light to 8:30 am. This allows the mountain to be open for tourists after we practice. This also means that we have to wake up at 2 am and be on the mountain at 3 am so we can get a good pit space close to the starting line. A good pit space is crucial because it’s important to get to the line before your tires cool too much. I am not looking too happy here. The temperatures are in the 20s and a strong wind is blowing and I am freezing.
We set up a generator and put tire warmers on the car. The pavement temp is in the low 40s – high 30s so we have to really heat the tires, we try to get them over 180 degrees if possible. Pikes Peak is the only course I have ever experienced where the tire temps and pressures can drop a lot, like from 180 degrees to 70! At high altitudes, the generator doesn’t run so great. Because of the cold, you can see the importance of getting to the line quickly to preserve the heat in the tires so a good pit spot is important. Air jacks are crucial in all of this as well, they greatly speed the time needed to get the tire warmers on and off and the car underway.