R for respect: Race to the Clouds

Hans-Joachim Stuck, Benjamin Leuchter and Klaus-Joachim Kleint talk about Pikes Peak, the famous hill climb in the USA.

In just a few months, the excitement barometer will be rising to the clouds, sending pulses racing at 4,000 metres above sea level: Volkswagen Motorsport will be competing in the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb again for the first time in 30 years. The world’s most demanding mountain race takes place in Colorado Springs, USA, and has been fascinating motorsport fans for more than a hundred years. When Volkswagen reaches for the clouds on Pikes Peak in 2018, tradition will take one giant leap into the future, with a powerful electric prototype competing in the legendary Race to the Clouds.

Pikes Peak – an adventure that makes the eyes of seasoned motorsport experts light up. Whether a professional on the racecourse or in rally sports or a fanatical racing scene expert, everyone has the greatest respect for the legendary Race to the Clouds. What can the Volkswagen team expect in Colorado on Sunday,   24 June 2018? What’s really important when ascending into the clouds? And what can be expected from the Pikes Peak premiere with an electric car? European Rally Champion and Pikes Peak driver Jochi Kleint, motorsport legend Strietzel Stuck and professional racing driver Benny Leuchter are looking forward to Pikes Peak …


Pikes Peak in a pack of three: you took part in 1985, 1986 and 1987. What makes this race so special to you?

Jochi Kleint: It’s an unbelievable challenge. It kicks off at an elevation of around 2,800 metres and climbs to nearly 4,300 metres, with 156 bends along the way. Back then it was on gravel – and that’s unbelievably demanding. And then there’s the thin air at that elevation, which is really hard on the engine. The situation got critical at around mile 16, with a dramatic loss in performance. Especially during the first race in 1985, when we were still using a naturally aspirated engine. But I also got to compete three times with a twin engine, which was also quite exciting. The whole concept was absolutely fascinating. Who had ever had two engines in the car? And then there was the atmosphere, the diversity of the drivers – the Pikes Peak experience is indescribable! Competing in this race is an unbelievable honour. Even if it didn’t ultimately end with a victory, the three Pikes Peak races were some of the best experiences in my motorsport career. I’m still just as proud as ever of my ‘Rookie of the Year’ trophy, which I won in 1985.

From your experience in three races, what would you say is key to success in Pikes Peak?

Jochi Kleint: If you want to make it through Pikes Peak, the team needs to work well together and the vehicle needs to be adjusted specifically for the route. And most importantly, you as a driver need to be perfectly prepared. After all, you’re alone in the cockpit. That’s why back then I recorded myself reading out my notes with a dictation device, which I listened to over and over again. There are some stretches where you’re driving blind. Crests, the sun, blind corners – if you’re not prepared, you will lose plenty of time. You need to concentrate 1,000% on each and every stretch. The Race to the Clouds is a challenge which, in my opinion, is not comparable with any other event in the world. If the concept is right and the team has spent lots of time training, I can definitely see Volkswagen bringing home a record!


The legend of Pikes Peak – and Volkswagen finally in the thick of it again in 2018 …

Strietzel Stuck: Volkswagen’s decision to compete in Pikes Peak again and this time with an electric car is a very cool thing – and the right choice. Pikes Peak is one of the last adventures in the US. The enormous challenges facing drivers, the vehicle and technicians make Pikes Peak truly unique. I trained on Pikes Peak for Audi for four weeks in 1989 and have the utmost respect for the route! You have to be aware of the fact that there’s a drop at the end of the road. Only the best know they have what it takes. The route has since been tarmacked – you have more grip on tarmac than on gravel, allowing you to take turns at much faster speeds. The vehicle needs to be a perfect fit. Thorough knowledge of the route is an absolute must. Every risk on Pikes Peak is costly. Just like the challenges of the race, the fan community in the US is also one of a kind: the Americans love motorsport, are very dedicated and appreciate competitive achievements. All this also adds to the excitement of Pikes Peak. Successful participation in the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is an exceptional honour for the driver – and the brand.

Race to the Clouds 2018 – what do you expect of the Volkswagen team?

Strietzel Stuck: Pikes Peak is a huge challenge for technicians, and optimal chassis adjustment is absolutely essential. It takes lots of test drives to find the right adjustment for the mountain. So far, everything Volkswagen Motorsport has ever touched has been a success. In combination with an experienced driver in the cockpit – I’m very optimistic. Pikes Peak 2018 will demonstrate that Volkswagen is well positioned in e-mobility. We’re cautiously optimistic: Pikes Peak is anything but simple and you shouldn’t assume that you can reach a record time, right out of the gate. Competing successfully – a good race, a good time – that would be a great achievement.


German-made e-mobility in the long-standing American race – a risky premiere?

Benny Leuchter: The first time I heard about the project, I thought: Amazing! It’s great that Volkswagen’s competing with an electric car. It’s an opportunity to prove that e-mobility can be lots of fun and competitive. I think it’s wonderful that the development of e-mobility is so impressively promoted and is now also more tangible for motorsport fans. That’s a good sign! You can also learn a lot from this motorsport experience and apply it to the series. It’s a win–win situation all round and Volkswagen can and will achieve optimal results in this race on many different levels. A fantastic lighthouse project!

Pikes Peak with an electric car – how do you see Volkswagen’s chances?

Benny Leuchter: The benefits of using an electric car in Pikes Peak are obvious: An electric drive guarantees consistent performance from start to finish, which is a real advantage. And elevation doesn’t play a role. With intelligent four-wheel-drive you can generate optimal roadholding, which is very important in this hill climb. I feel right at home on Nürburgring. Nordschleife has a similar length and isn’t exactly a walk in the park either, but Pikes Peak is a different story – this race takes you on a journey into the sky! Even the smallest mistake is punished harshly. And then there’s the weather, which is an unpredictable component. Driving up Pikes Peak with a high-speed racer like that is an extremely attractive prospect – and I have the utmost respect for the drivers who take this challenge on. That said, I wish the team the very best. I plan to follow Pikes Peak very closely and am already looking forward to the event. New Zealander Rhys Millen achieved the current best time in the category of electrically powered prototypes in 2015. Trying to beat his time of 8 minutes and 57.118 seconds is an exciting challenge. But in any case, competing in the Race to the Clouds with an electric car is a very strong statement!


11.01.2018   |  

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