Has America Finally Found Its Nürburgring?
Sébastien Loeb tackling Pikes Peak. Photo courtesy of Red Bull
North America has just come the closest it’s ever been to being in the grips of Pikes Peak Fever. Perhaps, the world has. An automaker that doesn’t import cars to the continent used an energy drink company’s vast tentacles of hype to promote its mass dumpage of money into a 12-mile run up a barren hill. And it was awesome.
Peugeot placed the world’s best driver, Sébastien Loeb, into its purpose built 208 T16, which sports a power-to-weight ratio scarily close to a modern Formula 1 car’s, and let the Internet do the rest. They began the promotional onslaught by tieing the current car’s nomenclature to its last Pikes Peak challenger and the star of one of the first viral videos (Cloud Dance), 1988’s all-conquering 405 T16. With Red Bull’s weight behind the new effort, it wasn’t long before anyone remotely engaged with the car world was waiting with baited breath for the green flag to drop. Overnight, it seemed like everyone was suddenly aware of the awesome 91-year history of the Pikes Peak International Hillclimb.
With Loeb’s record shattering 8:13 run in bag (spoiler alert!), we can now sit back and assess what it all means. Well, since the hill is now completely paved, the time allows no meaningful comparison to Ari Vatanen’s in the 405. And since Peugeot piled heaps of money and manpower into this factory effort, and the PPIHC is still largely contested by folks who build their cars in sheds, their crushing time is likely to stand for a while. At least until another manufacturer and another energy drink company team up for a no holds barred attack on the mountain.
Ah yes, the mountain. 12.42 miles of twisting tarmac stretched over a beautiful natural backdrop prone to violent and vast shifts in weather. Sounds familiar…
The Nordschleife. Nürburgring. The Green Hell. The epic, 12.8 mile track in Germany’s Eifel Mountains that, depending on your viewpoint, is responsible for either perfecting or destroying your modern car’s setup. Many of the major manufacturers have R&D facilities permanently located trackside. The mythic racetrack is seen as a perfect development tool for making performance cars actually perform. I will leave the debate as to the efficacy of this for another time.
For now, I will wonder why the course at Pikes Peak is not seen as America’s Nordschleife? The same way we all now seem to know that a sub-8 minute lap of the ‘Ring is considered fast, and that a mid-7 minute lap is hero-car stuff, we could be talking about how our production cars get up Pikes Peak. Wouldn’t you like to know what the new Jaguar F-type or Porsche Boxster would do up the mountain on street tires? New Corvette vs. Viper? Not on race day. On say, Wednesday.
I imagine the Sierra Club would have something to say about this. But I still think it’s an opportunity lost. With the Nordschleife becoming the de facto benchmark for manufacturers to test their cars, we are giving away a chance to hone North America’s cars on our own most challenging road. And in doing so, we lose a chance to celebrate and promote a truly one-of-a-kind motorsport event that has defined the American racing calendar for longer than any event save the Indy 500. But instead, we’ll wait until Volkswagen puts Sebastien Ogier into a carbon caricature of a Polo R or Audi S4 and throws millions of dollars at the mountain for 8 minutes of promotion they can’t put a price tag on.
This article originally appeared on Nicholas D’Amato’s blog, Just Add Lightness