Go tell it on the mountain
Torque readers will know that we’ve been following the upwards progress of one Charlie Martin for the past year or so as she makes a name for herself careering up the Alps at insane speeds. Bit like a certain well known TV presenter. But unlike ‘Hamster’ Hammond, ‘Go Charlie’ doesn’t make a habit of falling off them. In fact quite the contrary.
This season, a change to a new team and a new car has paid handsome dividends and results taking a serious leap forward. With the confidence building event by event Charlie has been setting her sights on conquering an even bigger challenge in her hill climbing career. Indeed in any hillclimber’s career…
Think Colorado and the first thing that comes to mind is the Grand Canyon. Over a mile deep, it makes a lasting impression on all who stand and peer over the edge of a seemingly endless drop to the Colorado River below. Now, cast your eye as it were some 600 miles to East and into the state of Colorado and you’ll find the reverse. Not a hole in the earth, but a lump. A rather large lump that stands just over 14,000 ft high. And a road that runs to the very top. Congratulations. You’ve found the goto destination that is the dream, the ultimate challenge of hillclimbers the world over.
At this point we’ll let Charlie Martin pick up the story becaase this is very much about one person trying to achieve their ultimate ambition.
“After what seems like a lifetime of waiting, I finally made it to Pikes Peak in Colorado USA last week, a week before the world descended on another hillclimb course in the heart of the English countryside. Goodwood. Any decent petrolhead will know what this place means to a hillclimber, but just in case you don’t I’ll paint you a picture.
Starting at Mile 7 on the Pikes Peak Highway, it climbs 4,720 ft to the summit, leaving both you and your engine gasping for breath as you (hopefully) cross the finish line some 14,115 ft above the clouds. On your way there you’ll cover 12.4 miles and negotiate 156 bends, remembering your line, braking and pace notes into each one as you approach… and you’d better make sure you do because there is hardly any armco at this monster of a hill. If you do slide off the side, you’ll be taking a fast route back to the startline 4,000 ft below, as this is possibly the most unforgiving course in the world.”
It’s a reputation that is well deserved and earns the respect of all those who tackle this awesome challenge. First ran in 1916, Race to the Clouds was a relatively local affair with competitors coming mostly from mainland USA. Then in the mid 80’s Pikes Peak drew the attention of us Europeans when Michèle Mouton & Martin Schanche tackled it in their Audi Quattro Group B cars.
Charlie continues: “Back then it was mostly gravel, and I was only 3 so it wasn’t yet on my list of life goals. But hours spent playing Gran Turismo as a teenager had a huge effect on my desire to go racing, and this is where I first ‘drove’ up it in the Suzuki Escudo Pikes Peak Special.
Fast forward into my 30’s and that’s where I found myself last week, on a mission to learn as much about this famous mountain road as possible. Things had come full circle and I’d used Dirt Rally on the PS4 to learn it this time around. But nothing, absolutely nothing quite prepares you for the scale & beauty of this incredible place – even in a Chevrolet Impala hire car. Vertigo sufferers should definitely look away as should those with over active imaginations. The altitude alone makes you feel lightheaded. But the idea of driving flat out, just a few feet from oblivion, has got to be the ultimate adrenaline rush and for me the danger is part of the attraction.
Hillclimbing is all about pushing yourself & conquering the fear that tells you to back off when the other guy (or girl) was flat to the board. It’s crossing the line and looking yourself in the eye knowing you left nothing in reserve. Nowhere in the World does that principle apply more aptly than here, you have to be brave and slightly unhinged to win at America’s Mountain.
For me it’s the ultimate expression of the sport I love, and it’s written clearly in the mantra under my logo – your mountain is waiting, so get on your way.”
Well we’ll be following Charlie’s progress as she makes her preparations for the big one next year. Meantime you might like to check out how another NGK driver tackled the Peak back in 2013 setting a new record in the process (which it has to be said has been beaten since). But hey, hats off to Sebastien Loeb for laying down the gauntlet and conquering what is without doubt one of the biggest motorsport challenges anywhere.
Respect Seb. Go Charlie!