The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is the most interesting race in the world right now when it comes to electric performance. Not only has the outright record at the mountain been held by an electric car since Volkswagen and Romain Dumas won there in 2018, but the mountain has been helping OEMs develop faster and more efficient electric machines for decades. While nobody has brought anything quite the level of VW’s I.D. R since, the mountain has now become the de facto proving grounds for privateers running fast electric street cars.
This year three Teslas arrived at the mountain prepared to do battle and uphold the good name of electric cars everywhere. After a dismal 2020 which saw Randy Pobst and Josh Allan crash in practice and the electric machines finish nowhere near the front, three competitors were determined to come back in 2021 stronger than ever. It was a good effort from all three, but only one would turn in a worthy time. Let’s break it down by entry, shall we?
Yoshihara has been attacking Pikes Peak for several years now, switching machinery periodically in an effort for ever faster times. After running a respectable 9th overall last year and winning the Unlimited Division class in his highly modified Toyota 86, he wanted a new challenge and an attempt at even quicker times. He could see the writing on the wall that electric performance was going to have the upper hand.
With plenty of time to go before the race, Evasive Performance got its hands on a 2018 Model 3 and set about modifying it in tune with the demands of the mountain. By that I mean lots of aerodynamic tweaks. With a massive swan neck wing out back matched to a deep splitter on the front, plus a carbon widebody kit and carbon rear wheel aero discs, the Turn 14-sponsored car looked race ready.
Throughout the week of practice and qualifying, the Evasive car got faster each day. It started out as a mid-pack runner on Tuesday, but by Thursday it was over 8 seconds clear of Pobst in the Plaid over the middle section of the mountain. The team took Friday off to focus on some setup cues and prep for the race. Unfortunately, the day of the race the team uncovered a new electrical fault on the way to the start line. The car ran in a low-power mode for the entire run, and Yoshihara could do no better than dead last with a time several minutes slower than anyone else.
Despite a promising effort, the Evasive team didn’t have it when it counted. A disappointment for everyone involved, I can only imagine. The team says it will return in 2022.
In 2020 Allan showed up with a then-new Model 3 and on the first day of testing the car shunted off the mountain and into a massive accident. The car was too broken to race but not beyond repair, however Joshua ended up in the hospital with four compression fractured vertebrae. Once he recovered, though, he was back on the path to redo the car for another attempt to race at the mountain. With a few improvements, and huge support from Yokohama Tire, the car was returned to form, and made ready for the 2021 effort. Thankfully Josh recovered from his injuries in quick order, and was back in fighting form for the race this June.
With a pretty serious diffuser and a giant bumper-mounted rear wing, this car certainly had a lot of downforce. Add in a beefy front bumper and front splitter, plus a wild widebody kit, this car was in it to win it. Technically still a Pikes Peak rookie, Allan took every minute he could to learn the course, gaining speed with each run.
When it came to race day, Allan said he had a great first two sections, but struggled in the third. The timesheets corroborate that as he ran around 10 seconds off the pace of Pobst in the Plaid in sector 1 and sector 2, but lost nearly a minute of time in the final third of the climb. If I had to guess, this won’t be the last time Allan finds himself on the mountain.
Much like Allan, Pobst was coming back to Pikes Peak in an effort to redeem his crash in the 2020 running. During practice last year Pobst hit a frost heave at full chat and jumped his Model 3 Performance right off the mountain into a wall. The Unplugged Performance team managed to find a second Model 3 Performance and turned the two cars into one race car just before the race. Unfortunately something in the electronics didn’t like the idea of working properly, and the car ran in a limp-home mode most of the way up the mountain. The car finished 21st overall last year, way slower than it potentially could have.
Unplugged has continued prepping that Model 3 Performance since that crash, doing massive surgery, including a new tube-frame front end and a central seating position for the driver. Further, the team has developed a complete carbon front aero section for the 3, but at the last minute the team scrapped the plan to run the same car again, once the Model S Plaid was delivered. A race team can’t turn down an opportunity to run almost double the horsepower, right?
With just two weeks to prep the Plaid ahead of practice week, it was a rush effort from the outset. Literally two days after the Model S Plaid was delivered in NorCal, the Unplugged team had already bolted a wing and splitter onto the car, plus some lightweight wheels. It also ditched the yoke steering wheel for a proper round one. Then it was stripped of weight and a roll cage was installed. The team prepped the car for an event at Laguna Seca called Hypercar Invitational, where it absolutely walked Lamborghinis, Porsches, and McLarens all day.
Hypercar Invitational was just a test session for the team, and the real prep work began once the weekend was over. From there the car was further stripped and given even more impressive aero pieces. With massive power from the three-motor setup, the last thing this electric machine needed was more power, so the team focused on handling and downforce. Both incredibly important when racing at 12,000 feet.
Through the week, Pobst was frequently at the top of the time sheets for the Exhibition class, running well ahead of anyone, excepting Yoshihara. It was clear that it would be a tough fight between those two for the electric honors. When Dai’s car suffered electrical issues at the start line, however, it was clear Pobst would have this one in the bag if he could keep it on the mountain.
And keep it on the mountain he did. Pobst managed to finish tenth overall with a time of 6:57.220 on a weather-shortened course. He was only beaten by three open wheel Pikes Peak specials, three 800-horsepower turbocharged Porsches, a factory-entered Bentley race car, a former NASCAR chassis with a massive turbocharged engine, and the wildest BMW M3 that has ever been built. It was an incredible effort from Unplugged and Pobst to run so fast in a car that was developed in just a handful of weeks. I would expect both this car and Unplugged’s M3 Perf to race at Pikes Peak in 2022.
It’s going to be a great race next year, so watch this space.