Porsche 911 Turbo S proves internal combustion isn’t dead at Pikes Peak
“Keep it low stress, keep it fun,” David Donner says with ease about three and a half minutes into the above film. Maybe he’s describing a casual barbecue he’s hosting or a round of golf on the weekend. But he is not. He talks about climbing the perilous Pikes Peak Hill Climb, all 12.42 miles of it. And he talks about trying to do it while setting a record time.
Keep Donner’s happy words in mind, then skip ahead a dozen minutes. He grabs a slide to prevent the car from falling into an abyss. Unfazed, he then accelerates sharply, plunging deeper into the cloud. The car is consumed by a white fog. There’s another bend ahead, another drop on the outside. But where? When to switch the pressure from the accelerator pedal to the brake pedal? Change too late and the car will not be able to stop on the slippery asphalt.
How the hell do you “keep stress low, keep it fun” in this situation? Just looking at it gives me collywobbles and has my heart rate at a level that no medical professional would ever describe as relaxed. It’s phenomenal.
Let’s go back a bit. This film is the story of David Donner’s ride in the 100th run of the famous Pikes Peak Hill Climb earlier this year. Donner is a three-time Pikes Peak winner and remains the last American to be crowned king of the hill. This year, he wasn’t aiming for the overall standings, hoping instead to reclaim the record he once held for fastest production car to the finish line at 14,115 feet.
The plan was drawn up with the famous Porsche magazine 000. And the car chosen for the task was a . It was also a production tram, licensed to drive on the road. Champion Motorsport prepared the car, with Technical Director Tom Pelov overseeing operations and Victor Scanapico carrying out the modifications with true artistry. As you’d expect, various additions and modifications had to be made to meet safety regulations, including a cage (built to NASCAR specifications in NASCAR country), a competition seat, the removal of all mats (for the fire safety), fuel cell, fire suppression system and power cut-off (with switches so nicely placed in the center cupholder that they look like a factory option).
There were only a few performance-enhancing changes that could be made, the first of which was a new exhaust from Sharkwerks. This was installed primarily to help with turbo speeds at higher altitudes. Incidentally, some cars apparently had to replace the turbos daily, but the factory elements of the Turbo S remained bulletproof.
The ECU was also tuned and the car was running on race fuel, but other than that it was stock. No changes were made to the suspension, brakes, drivetrain, all-wheel-drive system, wheels, or aerodynamics. Even the tires were road-legal Michelin Cup 2 Rs.
In fact, there was another change that might have helped shave a few psychological tenths off: the rather inspiring livery. Pete Stout, editor of 000, and his team came up with the idea of putting pages from one of the magazine’s articles (on a 930 Turbo) on the car. Very appropriate. And just as you might assume you need an electric vehicle to be competitive on Pikes Peak these days, there’s also a narrative in the media that digital is the only way forward and that “the print is dead”. As such, the combination of an internal combustion engine car and a successful print magazine is quite a pleasing union.
The 911 arrived at Pikes Peak earlier this week with just 40 miles on the clock. It had covered 340 miles by the time it returned, under its own power, to Donner’s garage at the end. No consumables other than fuel and tires were replenished and required no alignment work.
Yet his performances were hardly slow and steady. The weather for the 100th Pikes Peak was atrocious which put the record out of reach. However, in terms of pure 2022 competition, the adverse conditions have undoubtedly tipped the balance in favor of driver and car.
Using all of his accumulated skills and years of knowledge, Donner put on an incredible performance. I can only assume driving through that thick cloud must have been like running flat out through thick white smoke and counting your steps in order to dodge the fire you know is in there. But even on the relatively well-viewed lower slopes, engagement and speed are spectacular, especially given the clearly slippery surface. And given the speed, it’s very easy to forget that the car is a production car. That’s exactly why I love it when the film cuts to the over-the-shoulder camera angle, as the view is of an almost entirely standard road car interior. The trim is there on the dash with the familiar center touchscreen showing the tire pressure monitoring display. The everyday competition car.
The result for Donner and the Turbo S was a sensational second place finish. Not in class. Second place overall. They were bested only by Robin Schute in his Wild Unlimited Wolf TSC-FS class (which has 600 horsepower rivaling the Turbo S but weighs just a touch over 1,100 pounds). Obviously, the Exhibition class win was also Donner’s, the Turbo S more than half a minute ahead of the second Tesla Model 3.
In fact, even with the dreadful weather, Donner was only 16 seconds away from the record he was about to set. Next year, maybe. Maybe with even less stress and more fun.