Flight of the Falcon: Pike’s Peak Race Week Update 2 [Gallery]
So far so good with Aaron Kaufman’s aim to run his best time yet with his 1963 Ford Falcon at the 100th Anniversary of the Pike’s Peak International Hill Climb. (Catch up with our first report if you missed it.)
While the race is on this Sunday, June 26th – the week leading up to is full of practice, work, and very little sleep. The course on “America’s Mountain” covers 12.42 miles, but being a public roadway they can’t just shut it down for a week’s worth of practice and fine-tuning. Both the difficulty of remembering its 156 turns as well as getting a car to perform with the drastic ~5,000 ft. elevation change means racers need some seat-time on the mountain. That seat-time comes between the hours of 5-8:30am Tuesday through Friday of the week before the race.
Teams awake well before dawn to get to Pikes Peak entry gate near 3:30am when it opens. From there they take their staging spot for that day’s allotted practice segment – there’s a lower, middle, and upper section. By the time they unload, get everything prepped, and ready to go – the sun is just beginning to rise.
Aaron passed up Tuesday’s practice time in lieu of getting some work done on his Falcon. Left largely untouched since last year’s race, and months ago when Aaron drove it in a local track event, a few details needed attending. Checking in on fuel delivery and jetting as well as tracking down and fixing an oil leak, the Falcon was ready to rumble come Wednesday morning.
Staging at the Devil’s Playground region of the course, Aaron would be taking the upper-run of the Peak for Day 1. Sitting above the tree line, this section of the course can get spooky. Besides having its own unique weather patterns, the road surface can shift due to the ground beneath it, and oxygen is thinnest at these last couple thousand feet of elevation change (meaning the most amount of compromised power.)
Three runs later and Aaron had snagged his fastest time ever in that section, 2:16.385. While the day’s fastest times went to Electric Modified class cars like record-setting Rhys Millen or the Honda crew in their Acura NSX prototype, Aaron was happy with his gains but had identified some issues still needing work.
By the time morning practice gets over, the car is loaded, and you’re back down the mountain again, it seems like it should be time for dinner, but in reality it’s only about 10:30am! So you grab some food and get on with your day…
Not feeling that his fuel delivery was right and also concerned about his distributor – it was back to the garage with the Falcon. The carburetor got torn apart (again) with jetting and flotation getting fiddled with. Meanwhile the distributor had acted up – its gear was getting chewed and a crack had been identified up near the rotor. Aaron welded the top of the distributor while helpful friends from Mike Ryan’s crew took the distributor shaft over to local Lanier’s Speed Shop to change out its gear.
It was time to call it a day by the time the pieces were back together and Aaron felt happy with the engine’s timing.
Thursday morning and it was time to get up and do it all over again. This time Aaron would be running the lower part of the course while also setting his qualifying time for Sunday’s race. He started the day with another best time, and hoped to shave further time off in the second run. A gear change snafu kept him from doing so, but all-in-all Aaron was pretty satisfied with where the car was at.
The fastest qualifying times came from the Electric Modified’s again – with no change in position from where they stood the day before. Rys in his eO prototype, Tetsuya in the NSX, and Monster Tajima with his rocket took the top spots. (Get live timing on PPIHC site, here.)
Of course, racing isn’t all business – you’ve got to stop and have a little fun here and there – this is, after all, Aaron and girlfriend Lauren’s vacation trip. No film crew or Gas Monkey shenanigans this go round… just Aaron and the mountain, and that’s plenty!
Once back in town, a stop into Lanier’s again for some racing fuel and shop talk. While I can’t repeat what I heard, I can tell you that it would be difficult to find anyone on this planet more knowledgeable about carburetors and engine intricacies than Lanier. Having honed his skills over decades of racing in various forms and helping numerous racers battle the mountain eventually builds up into a heap o’ wisdom that you can’t pick up in any school but life.
The day wouldn’t be complete with at least a little bit of fiddling with the car…
With just one section of the Peak left to practice on Friday, will Aaron continue to get his Falcon keyed in to its sweet spot? Stay tuned here on DrivingLine.com as well as our Facebook page to see live updates from America’s Mountain!