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Unread 08-16-2012, 10:15 AM
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Default Re: Brianne Corn's Pike's Peak Subaru STi

This review of the event is even more harsh than my own, coming from Brianne's crew chief, JasonM. Jason works at Vorshlag but his views are his own.

Originally Posted by Jason M
JHere's my take on what was right and wrong with this year's event:

Time for a Pikes Peak update. – Warning, this is my opinion and not from my driver or employer. I saw issues with the PPIHC organization, the drivers, and the on-site and virtual spectators. This was only my fourth year on the Peak, and many things I write about, particularly the past, were told to me by other, older competitors.

Short story, our run was in less than ideal conditions and did not end in a podium finish, but we took responsibility for our own safety before the PPIHC took responsibility for the competitors that ran after us.

Long story, this year will go down in recent Pikes Peak history as one of the most controversial years, the most dangerous years, and the most disappointing years. In the years before paving started on the Pikes Peak Highway (yes, it’s ironically called a highway), the race accepted applicants, vetted them to make sure only qualified, experienced drivers fielding decent equipment were invited to participate. Then, based on qualifying times, the slower drivers were eliminated so that only the fastest, best prepared teams participated in the limited time available on race day.

During the transition to pavement attendance fell and the event seemed to accept most applicants with little vetting and did not eliminate any competitors between practice and race days.

With the paving done I expected a huge number of competitor applicants (which happened) and a return to vetting and eliminating drivers without appropriate experience (which did not happen). This caused issue #1, lots of drivers with no rally or hillclimb experience and little time trial or roadracing experience. Some with no more than some autocross experience. And novices with little competition driving experience were allowed to enter a car in the Unlimited class.

Accepting all these entries swelled the competitor list and it was obvious that not all of them would be able to run on race day. Competitors quickly started asking what sort of solution the PPIHC board was planning and were told the Qualifying rule from the rulebook would be put into play. The rulebook actually has a number of methods for including and excluding competitors and many of the novice competitors and spectators whined about the fairness or politics surrounding these methods. Here’s a few that I found in a quick skim:
Originally Posted by PPIHC Rules
Section II.
C. Any competitor who, in the opinion of the Stewards, shows insufficient skills, judgment, or ability may be disqualified from further participation in the event.

D. The Director of Competition shall have the right to require Competitors to demonstrate their ability to drive competitively on the Pikes Peak Race Course before they shall be permitted to practice or qualify.

Section III Part VII
7.2. Filing Entries-PPIHC will invite and receive entries only from selected competitors. PPIHC can set the number of entries in all divisions and classes, before the entry closing date.

8.2.4 Any race vehicle which does not make a qualification attempt may be added to the race program under the Race Director's option, subject to the approval of the Director of Competition and payment of all applicable fees.

8.2.5 The number of qualifiers for any division shall be established by the PPIHC. The PPIHC reserves the right to disqualify any competitor who qualifies outside a percentage (115%) of the fastest time. For spacing purposes the Director of Competition will notify all Stewards and Officials of those vehicles that fall outside of the 115% rule.

8.2.6 The race competitors shall be the stipulated number of fastest qualifiers, unless one or more of them fail to, or are not permitted to, line up for the race, in which case the Stewards may permit the next fastest qualifiers to complete the field. The PPIHC shall be allowed to add to the field at its discretion.

And this is all topped by:

Section III, Part I,

1.4. PPAHCEM Option-The PPAHCEM/PPIHC has the right to make and construe rules and to render decisions concerning them; to grant, refuse or withdraw licenses, sanctions and approvals; to assign and cancel dates for competitions; to appoint and rescind the appointment of officials; to impose and remove penalties for violation of its rules; to establish standards of eligibility for participation in competitions; to establish rules for its own procedures; and to do any and all things which, in its judgment, are consistent with the enhancement of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.

1.6 Acceptance of Rules-Every person who participates in the event shall be deemed to be acquainted with the rules and shall agree to the acceptance of these rules as published, and as amended or supplemented, and agrees to be bound by same.

Originally Posted by Jason M
In addition to these rules, the competitors were told at the initial driver’s meeting that any competitor causing two red flags during practice or qualifying, or any competitor driving off the course on purpose (ditch hooking) would be disqualified from competition.

Well, that should thin out the ranks.

Instead, what happened was that the PPIHC followed their own rules with two exceptions. They changed the 115% of the fastest driver to 120% of the second fastest driver (seems acceptable to me) and they included a few high profile competitors under the guise of “promoter’s option” (see Section II 8.2.4 and Section III 1.4). The only reason I can see for competitors being surprised or upset about this was that the whole qualification requirements were not clearly stated before Tech Inspection was over (as required in the rulebook) or that they did not make the cut. This caused some anguish among rookie drivers who started a negative PR campaign against the PPIHC during Fan Fest. The PPIHC organization quickly caved to their pressure and issued a bulletin the next morning stating that all competitors would be allowed to participate in the Hill Climb, including those that wrecked twice, those that ditch hooked on course and those that were so slow they should be entered in the exhibition class.

So now we have unvetted competitors entered. We have far too many competitors entered. And we have inexperienced and unprepared competitors entered.

As an aside, we also have seven cars entered in the Electric class.

Back up to the actual practice days. The PPIHC organization tried a few things to make things smoother during practice days. Runs were allowed from dawn to 9:30, which is 30 minutes longer than 2010. But instead of allowing competitors to go to the start line whenever they were able and then halting the runs so competitors could return to the paddock when the line was idle like in past years, they broke up the runs by classes and practice runs could only be competed when your class was running. I’d estimate that cost us two runs in the top section, two in the middle and one at the lower qualifying section. In my eyes that was one experiment that failed. Bill Caswell has written on Japolink about the safety of the event and the lack of practice runs. This is one thing we agree on. The lack of practice and qualifying runs due to the huge number of competitors and the mico-organization of the runs damaged the competition of race day.

Something else they tried with success (in my opinion) was that the competition vehicles had to be in the pits by 6:00 PM on Saturday before the event. This eliminated the hours of getting competitors situated in their pit spaces on the morning of the event. Good call! Though we found another car in our pit space and had to have it moved, it was not really clear where our pit space started and ended, and we found our pit space boxed in a few times. Luckily our fellow racers are mostly cooperative.

On to Race Day.

Frankly, worked just like most PPIHC race days. Semi organized chaos. But that was expected. Competitors are expected to keep track of what group is running and when to stage in the start line. As unorganized as it seems, it always seems to work just fine and with a smaller race-day group it would work even better.

The race day was expected to be long, which meant we WOULD see a shift in the weather at some point. With a smaller competitor field they can sometimes finish the runs before 3:00 PM and they –might- be able to get everyone done before the weather changes for the worse, but with the huge number of competitors we estimated the earliest we would run would be 2:00 PM assuming we ran before the Unlimited class and that there were no delays. Even then there were plenty of competitors that had to start behind us. But the delays started early. Competitors (new and old) had mechanical issues on course and a larger than normal number of off course events that caused red-flags and delays.

I heard second-hand that we experienced a long delay because a fire truck was tied up observing Monster’s car after it failed on course. With the larger number of electrical cars entering it may be prudent to review the handling of electrical car fires to see if they can be made more efficient so the event can continue.

The red flags continued through the day and I have no issues with the race-day handling of the events that caused them. Very minor delays were caused by communication issues with safety trucks and ambulances, and that might have caused longer delays, but it seemed backup methods prevented those delays from being longer. Kudos to the organization for handling so many incidents so efficiently.

The LONG delay caused by rookie Jeremy Foley’s crash caused a few things that rankled the competitors. This was a wreck that closed the course for 90+ minutes and four competitors were red flagged and had to return to the start line for another run. Instead of returning to the end of the line per the rules they were allowed to start in front of the remainder of their division, thereby having the best possible weather conditions as the conditions were becoming worse. The long delay also caused a significant weather change to the course relative to the first four Time Attack Division competitiors, but that is a part of hillclimbs. The first four cars (the top four qualifiers) got to make their run in relatively nice conditions while the next seven ran in difficult conditions (rain, hail, sleet, cold). After two offs in the bad conditions the PPIHC organizers shortened the course mid-Division which caused some competitors to cry foul. But it was the right thing to do both for safety and to allow the remaining competitors to make a run. It would have taken too long to extract the two cars that had gone off and resume running the entire Highway. So the course was shortened to Glen Cove, below the two off-course cars and below the bad weather. The remainder of the Time Attack Division and the entire Open Wheel Division ran the shortened course.

The event finished and I attended the most lightly attended and latest PPIHC award ceremony in four years.

So what went wrong?

The big issues were that the PPIHC didn’t restrict entries to competitors with experience that crosses over to hillclimbs. They did not set a maximum entry number per division or per event and choose from the applicants and they did not eliminate competitors during qualification and practice. They also had minor procedure and communication issues during the event that most likely did not change the flavor, competition results or safety of the event.

The drivers used peer pressure, social media and threats of bad press to get the PPIHC organization to allow potentially unsuitable competitors to be admitted at multiple times during the event from the entry period, the qualification period and the time between the initial competitor list being published on Friday and the reversal email on Saturday. This has continued after the event with cries of “politics” and “unfair competition” after the event from a few bad sports.

In addition to the handling of the event, I believe that the safety rules regarding the cages for production cars should be changed to fall in line with FIA Rally cookbook cages, FIA homologated cages or Rally America cages. The simple cages used in some of the Time Attack cars is not adequate. Only through luck have we escaped using the current cage rules.

Some things viewed as issues that I think were the responsible thing to do:

Shorten the course. Had that not been done the delay caused by the off course cars would have caused the Open Wheel class to not run at all. Doing it in the middle of a Division was a difficult call, but any other call would have denied some competitors a chance at any run.

Including high-profile competitors when they qualified slower than eliminated competitors. Some competitors can whine all they want. But if their programs are attractive enough and they can generate the public buzz or be allied with the event, then they might have been included also.

Changing the qualifications from 115% of the fastest to 120% of the second fastest.
Using the first qualifier would have decimated the divisions and left very few competitors for race day. Slightly relaxing them allowed for full slate of competitors. Though the eventual elimination of qualification hurt the competition and flavor of the event on race day.
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