When the final stretch of the Pikes Peak Highway was paved at the end of September, it wasn't just environmentalists who cheered.
The racing community cheered, too.
And organizers of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, the annual race to the summit, say there's so much interest in testing man and machine against the twisting, nearly 13-mile course they're considering making the Race to the Clouds a two-day event in 2013.
“Imagine that?” Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach said Monday.
“Five, 10 years ago, word on the street was that the Hill Climb was going to go away. Now it’s become something that’s attracting worldwide interest,” said Bach, who rode in the 2011 pace car with Hollywood heartthrob Paul Walker at the wheel.
Tom Osborne, Pikes Peak International Hill Climb board chairman and CEO of the Colorado Springs Sports Corp., said organizers considered scheduling a two-day race in 2012. But the race committee determined that 2013 is a more “viable option,” he said.
“We’re so late in the game here that it’s better to reduce the number of riders and drivers (in the 2012 race) through a qualifying rather than trying to jump through the logistics" of expanding the race to a second day, Osborne said.
At this time last year, organizers had identified 46 racers for the annual July competition. About 170 racers have expressed interest so far this year, Osborne said.
“The interest is astronomical compared to last year,” he said.
As a result, the race committee decided to cap the number of entrants and move up the entry deadline from June to Jan. 31.
“At end of January, we’ll determine if we need to have qualifying in order to reduce the field so that we have a safe number, or a manageable number, on the hill on July 8,” Osborne said.
“Let’s say 250 sign up. Maybe we take 80 percent of each class to get down to that magic number of maybe 160, 170 vehicles on the mountain on race day,” he added.
The race, scheduled for July 8, includes practice runs July 4-6. If racer interest continues to increase, the qualifying times would occur on those days, Osborne said.
If the race expands to two days, it's unlikely it would be held around the Fourth of July, a major revenue generator for the U.S. Forest Service, Osborne said.
Paving of the Pikes Peak Highway, a $15 million project that began 10 years ago, generated much of the increased interest, he said. Manufacturers can send a wider array of vehicles to the race now.
“Now they can bring in their manufactured cars and cars that are two inches above the ground,” Osborne added. “We’re seeing all kinds of unique new cars."
Osborne said the race, which is the second-oldest motor sports race in America, is a boon to the region.
“The international and national press is going to be terrific,” he said. “It’s just great exposure for the city of Colorado Springs as well as the economic impact."