‘Wild ride’ at Pikes Peak

By Catherine Pattison on Sat, 8 Jul 2017 | Latest News
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Queenstown’s Andre Simon tuned Highlands Motorsport Park owner Tony Quinn’s Ford Focus over at the Pikes Peak International Hillclimb in the United States last month. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

A Queenstown car tuner recently had the ‘‘bucket-list'' experience of working at the Pikes Peak International Hillclimb, although he was left wondering ‘‘what could have been''.

High Performance Academy technical director Andre Simon got the call to tune Highlands Motorsport owner Tony Quinn's Ford Focus when the Australian-based Scotsman had his second crack at the United States event late last month.

Simon described his time there as a ‘‘wild ride'', which resulted in Quinn recording the third-fastest practice time in the Unlimited class in his 3.8-litre twin-turbo Nissan R35-powered car known as the Monster Tamer.

On race day it was looking promising, with Quinn trading times with the Enviate Hypercar that eventually finished second in the Unlimited category. However, in a cruel twist of fate, Quinn was forced to abort his run about 3km from the finish when the Focus' brakes failed.

‘‘The carbon-carbon brakes got up to 900degC and they have an upper working limit of around 650degC. It appears the extreme heat melted a seal and dumped the brake fluid. Tony deemed it too dangerous to continue,'' Simon said.

Simon and the rest of Quinn's crew were forced to wait about five hours to find out what happened, as there was no cellphone reception at the top of Pikes Peak.

‘‘We'd been battling overheating trouble on Thursday in the middle section of the course, so I'd assumed this was the problem,'' he said.

French professional driver Romain Dumas won the event for the third time in four years in his Norma MXX RD Limited in a time of 9min 5.672sec.

Simon occasionally works on Quinn's cars and those belonging to other Highlands members. He ended up ‘‘completely retuning'' Quinn's Ford Focus to deal with the rigours of Pikes Peak, in which drivers race from about 2700m above sea level to the finish line at 4300m.

Normally the car would produce about 800hp, but because of the altitude at the Colorado Springs race it was running between 600hp and 650hp, Simon said.

‘‘At the start line we lost about 30% of engine power compared to what we would run at sea level.''

It was Simon's first time at Pikes Peak and after experiencing the ‘‘epic view, average donuts, and thin air'' he described it as like no other motorsport event he had attended.

‘‘The 2am starts and long days take their toll. It's a brutal venue and I'm not sure there's anywhere else in the world you can get sunburnt on the start line while it's snowing at the summit.

‘‘We've met some great people and made some new friends, and maybe, one day, I might be back. As with motorsport events, there's always next year,'' he said.