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David Ramsey: Hill Climb might inspire an imitation on faraway mountain

June 20, 2017 Updated: June 25, 2017 at 10:28 am
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photo - Chris Strauch of Colorado Springs, drives his 1970 Porsche 914 Wide Body Ediger Special during the first day of sanctioned practice for the 95th Annual Pikes Peak International Hill Climb on Tuesday June 20, 2017. Strauch is competing in the Pikes Peak Challenge - Pikes Peak Open Division. (Photo by Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette).
Chris Strauch of Colorado Springs, drives his 1970 Porsche 914 Wide Body Ediger Special during the first day of sanctioned practice for the 95th Annual Pikes Peak International Hill Climb on Tuesday June 20, 2017. Strauch is competing in the Pikes Peak Challenge - Pikes Peak Open Division. (Photo by Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette). 

In late May, Megan Leatham watched a video of a sports car moving at extreme speed along a wide, smooth road that winds to the top of Jebel Jais, a mountain in the United Arab Emirates.

“I didn’t quite get chills,” Leatham says.

But she did say “wow” out loud. And she was by herself in the office where she works as executive director of The Broadmoor Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.

“That’s a beautiful mountain,” Leatham remembers thinking. “That mountain needs a hill climb.”

It appears this faraway mountain with the glorious, wide road soon will have its own fast drive to the top.

Theo Measures and Matt Croucher are shadowing Leatham this week as she prepares for Sunday’s Hill Climb. Measures and Croucher work as representatives for PureDrive Automotive, which hopes to stage a race at Jebel Jais in early December 2018.

The visiting duo attends Hill Climb staff meetings. They watch qualifying on Pikes Peak. They talk with Leatham about the smallest of details, and there are tens of thousands of these small details.

Tom Osborne works as Hill Climb chairman.

“They’re excited,” Osborne says. “They want to have their first hill climb, and we have 100 years of experience.”

The origin of the road to the top of Jebel Jais is Hollywood ready. Early in the 21st century, Sheik Saud bin Qasimi decided he wanted to see, and drive, a road to the top of the United Arab Emirates’ tallest mountain.

So he built one.

The sheik declined to worry about cost. He wanted the best. He got the best. The road is wide – at most points, twice as wide as the Pikes Peak road – and exceptionally smooth. It’s already considered one of the world’s most thrilling, and non-bumpy, fast drives.

Just ask Measures, who was behind the wheel of a Ferrari 488 Spider as he roared up the mountain.

“We had the road closed to us in order to play,” Measures says. “The drive is breathtaking. The scenery is absolutely phenomenal. The road is unique, really.”

How fast did he go?

“I was often too scared to look down,” Measures says. “But I’m guessing 160-170 miles per hour.”

Wow.

Croucher, too, has enjoyed/endured a fast ride on the closed course.

“It’s so wide that it gives you a false sense of security,” Croucher says. “It’s pretty insane, and you’re always aware of the other side of the concrete barrier, where there’s a 1,000-foot drop.”

In some ways, the challenges at the Pikes Peak Hill Climb and the potential Jebel Jais Hill Climb are similar. Both roads feature rapid, extreme elevation gains. Both roads arrive at a summit.

But the Jebel Jais road has barriers from start to finish, and the road does not spend much of the year covered with snow. The Jebel Jais road is less plagued – or maybe less blessed – by hairpin turns.

The Jebel Jais Hill Climb remains an idea. Measures and Croucher must find additional partners and finalize government support. They have been overwhelmed and encouraged by their journey to America’s Mountain.

They have a strong chance to create a race that will inspire many more utterances of “wow.”

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