Champions come to Colorado
The Pikes Peak International Hillclimb, also billed as The Race to the Clouds, is one of those romantic annual events that always captures the attention of the world of motorsport for one weekend in June.
It hasn’t always been that way however. First held in 1916, the iconic Colorado-based event was pretty much the domain of American competitors for its first seven decades. That finally changed in 1984, when it attracted its first European drivers.
Both were big names when it came to driving fast on dirt: rallycross ace Martin Schanche and world rally star Michele Mouton. And both took on the climb with modified versions of their usual machinery. For ‘Mr Rallycross’ Schanche it was a Ford Escort Mk3 4x4, while Mouton was in the Audi Quattro with which she had already taken wins in the World Rally Championship.
On their first visit to Pikes Peak, it was Schanche (who travelled to America on his own without any support team, and even drove his Escort from the airport to the course and back) who went quicker on the practice runs, but his attempt at the win was foiled by having to do much of the hill on only three wheels after a front-right puncture.
With the support of the factory Audi crew, Mouton won her class in second overall, and returned in 1985 to take the outright victory with a new record time. She would be the first in a line of international stars to take on and conquer Pikes Peak.
Two years later Walter Rohrl gave Audi another win, and that was followed by perhaps the most famous Pikes Peak triumph of all, when Ari Vatanen’s win aboard his Peugeot 405 T16 was immortalised in the short film Climb Dance.
It's still one of the most mesmerising pieces of driving footage ever shot.