Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Pikes Peak: Will it be 100 and out?

I’m surprised that more people aren’t talking about the restricted number of motorcycle entries being allowed in this years (centenary edition) of the Pikes Peak International Hillclimb.

Am I wrong about this? I’ve heard from a couple of sources that there will only be 33 bikes accepted this year.

I raced PPIHC twice in the naughties, and remember a field of well over 100 bikes (including quads, yuck) when I was there. But, as more and more of the course was paved and average speeds increased, it seemed that the organizers were increasingly skittish about motorcycles in general.

A quick check of entry lists for the last couple of years shows 60-some bikes and quads. In spite of the fact that few competitors were racing, a rider was killed in 2014 (ironically after crossing the finish line) and then another was killed last year.

At least once in the past, organizers discontinued all bike classes after such fatalities. But it seems that this year, they’re taking a page from the TT organizers' book. After David Jeffries died in the 2003 TT, they reduced the number of entries and then discontinued morning practice, thus reducing the total risk exposure.

Some people have said that by reducing the number of competitors, PPIHC will increase the number of practice runs available to each rider. That may be true but it doesn’t follow that increased practice will make the race safer. If anything more runs might encourage riders to seek the limit, raise average speeds, and make the race even more dangerous.

In any case, if the stories I’ve been hearing are true, and there’s only going to be 33 slots available for motorcycles this year, I have to wonder whether the race will survive the next fatality at all. I always thought that the Isle of Man might finally kill off the TT once it had reached its centenary. They didn’t, and in fact it’s gone from strength to strength since then. But Pikes Peak doesn’t have nearly the TT’s profound sense of its own history.

One more high-profile incident and the organizers may well say, “We got to 100. That’s a good time to call it quits.”

Careful up there, eh?

UPDATE... Shortly after posting this, a little bird told me that a few months ago, the number of motorcycles was destined to be zero. But, the bikers negotiated one third of the 100 scheduled race slots. Watch for an improved new-rider program (perhaps modeled on the Isle of Man's program) to be announced in the coming weeks.

1 comment:

  1. I think that in addition to minimizing accidental injury, the event should have a purpose. I hope that electric bike development and prototypes like the Victory 156 show that the event is still as relevant as it was 100 years ago.

    Such a unique, historical, and challenging event!