Christopher Lennon raced his 1973 Porsche 911 in The Broadmoor Pikes Peak International Hill Climb for six straight years before coming to a surprising halt.
That’s right, for the first time in what felt like forever, Lennon wasn’t behind the wheel of the car he said people often look forward to at the race.
Running the Hill Climb every year since 2012, Lennon was contacted by Micah Bayless, a senior electrical design engineer at Zero Motorcycles in the San Francisco Bay Area, with a new challenge immediately following the 2017 race — forcing him to skip the 2018 event.
“I’ve got a proposal for you,” said Bayless, who already had built a prototype of Lennon’s car. “I want to talk to you about converting your car to electric using our powertrain. Are you interested?”
Lennon agreed to Bayless’ deal and began working intently on changing his car from gasoline to electric. Bayless’ offer was first as an individual, but then other employees from Zero Motorsports jumped onboard with the project, one of whom was Senior Manager of Marketing Communications Dan Quick.
Just like that, Lennon has become the first racer to attempt such a feat and has been working on the vehicle for the last two years in preparation for the 97th Race to the Clouds on Sunday.
“The goal is to prove we can take a car with a really good history and make it even faster,” he said. “Electric seems to be the way things are going. For a lot of reasons, it was attractive to do this electric thing and try to prove a point.”
The cost was well over $100,000.
“It’s amazing that nobody has done this before,” Lennon said.
The entire process for Bayless began when his Porsche 912 had a motor explosion. He did calculations and found that the Zero Motorcycles powertrain, when multiplied, was a perfect solution. He became interested in who had Hill Climb Porsche vehicles, and a quick search on Google led him to Lennon, who owns a 912 that was converted to a 911 RSR Tribute.
Bayless got Lennon’s phone number through the Porsche Club in Colorado.
Shortly after Bayless’ conversation with a proposed offer nearly two years ago, Lennon flew out to San Francisco to test out the Porsche 912 that Bayless reworked on his own time.
But there wasn’t enough power.
Lennon flew out again for a second evaluation, bringing his crew chief with him. This time, Bayless developed more power and thoroughly impressed everyone involved.
“There’s an insatiability for (satisfaction) with a lot of helmets on a lot of desks,” Quick said. “A lot of people have competition coursing through their veins.”
The underlying factor for Lennon’s agreement to the deal was his personal goal of increasing his car’s speed to the summit. With an internal combustion system, Lennon said he spent a ton of money only to see small improvements, like 10 seconds.
Lennon also compared a gasoline vehicle to the human body. As humans need oxygen to breathe, the car needs air to run successfully. By the time he normally reaches the top of the mountain, his car loses 40 percent of its power when using gas.
“We saw the electric thing as a way to make a quantum leap, hopefully,” Lennon said. “Make a much bigger advance, set some new records and make a statement.”
So how fast will Lennon’s electric 1973 Porsche 911 run this year?
“That’s the honest answer,” Lennon said. “I think it’s fair to say that I would love to see an improvement of not just seconds but a minute. I think that may be possible. I’d be thrilled.”
‘It’s such an incredible event’
When Lennon first raced up Pikes Peak in 2012, he set a record for small displacement cars in the Vintage Class with a time of 12:33.021.
By the 2017 race, he had his Porsche running at a 10:50.019 mark in the Pikes Peak Open class, an improvement of more than 1 1/2 minutes.
But now, following a year off, Lennon is back in the race. The 51-year-old is ready to return to his happy place and possibly even break 10 minutes. The all-time record is held by Romain Dumas, who finished in 7:57.148 in his Volkswagen I.D. R last year.
“It has the potential to be really fast,” he said. “I can see the potential of the car.”
Lennon added that he doesn’t believe the Hill Climb is respected enough by those living in Colorado Springs, noting the residents don’t understand how important the event is on a worldwide scale.
In order to express his knowledge for the race, he recently published a book, “THE PEAK OF RACING: Pikes Peak through the racers’ eyes.”
“They take it for granted,” Lennon said of locals. “You go anywhere in the world and say, ‘Pikes Peak,’ and motorsports people are like, ‘Oh my God. It’s unbelievable.’”
His 150-page book features a full breakdown of all 156 turns, tons of photographs and interviews with the legends of Pikes Peak. It was a two-year project, just like the work on his 1973 Porsche 911.
“It’s such an incredible event, and it’s such an honor to be able to race,” Lennon said.
“It’s like a family.”