A timer malfunction saw to it that Chris Lennon didn’t conquer Pikes Peak the way he intended on June 30. But the passionate Pikes Peak International Hill Climb racer and Monument resident still got a podium finish — his sixth in seven trips up the world’s highest highway — during the 97th running of the event.
Lennon, who also last month released a book describing the history of the Hill Climb from a competitor’s perspective, raced up the 14,115-foot mountain this year in the same car — sort of — that he has been competing in since 2012.
Over the last two years, he converted his 1973 Porsche 911 RSR into an all-electric race car. It is the first time in the history of the race that a former winning internal combustion engine-winning car was converted to all-electric.
Lennon ran in the Exhibition Class and qualified 44th out of 58 cars. His lower spot in the running order, combined with several red flag stoppages and a timer malfunction, meant that Lennon was only allowed to race to Glen Cove, the halfway point of the 12.42-mile “Race to the Clouds.”
“(Hill Climb officials) gave us the option to race to Glen Cove and I said, ‘Let’s do it,’” Lennon said. “The weather was starting to come in and the conditions weren’t great, but I didn’t care if it was hailing or raining or snowing or sunny. I wanted to race this car and see what it could do.”
Lennon reached Glen Cove in 5 minutes, 12.386 seconds — the sixth-fastest finish among the 25 drivers who raced the short course.
Lennon’s time was good enough to place him third in the Exhibition Class behind legendary driver Rhys Millen (a former King of the Hill champion) and Randy Probst, another high-level professional racer.
“This is icing on the cake to have a podium finish,” Lennon said.
“Racing is a team sport, and the success we had is the result of sleepless night(s) by the crew getting the car to this point. The sheer amount of work done to convert this car is astronomical.”
Lennon, while pleased with how the car performed, is confident he can get a lot more out of it.
“We were at half power or less, maybe a third,” he said.
Lennon and his crew began preparing for the 2020 race on July 2.
Lennon was among the many Hill Climb drivers and motorcycle riders who commented on the passing of Carlin Dunne, who died during the race after hitting a bump with his 2019 Ducati Streetfighter V4 Prototype. Dunne was less than 100 yards from the finish line when he high-sided coming into the last turn.
“I certainly always knew who he was and his reputation as a rider.” Lennon said. “I have enormous respect for guys who do this on bikes.
“None of us know if we will ever get to do this again, so we leave it all out there. That’s what Carlin always did.”
Since 2014, three motorcyclists have died during Hill Climb competition or practice runs.
“That puts it all in perspective,” Lennon said. “It’s humbling.”
In Lennon’s Hill Climb book, he quoted famed Indy car driver and Hill Climb racer Mario Andretti, who won both events in 1969. That was the only year Andretti ever competed in the Hill Climb.
“After winning, I swore I’d never return,” Andretti said. “I had to take too many risks to win, everything had to go perfectly, and it was just too dangerous.”