After the inaugural race in 1916 the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb (PPIHC) was for many a year an all-American affair, till in 1984 saw its first European competitors in “Mister Rallycross” Martin Schanche and “French Volcano” Michèle Mouton.
It was not before the early 1980s that the organisers of the ‘Race to the Clouds’ started to think about making the PPIHC also interesting for foreigners, to underline the “International” status of the second oldest motorsport event in the United States [the ‘Indy 500’ dates back to 1911]. They established a new class under the name ‘Open Rally’ category, which several years later was replaced by the ‘Unlimited’ category. In 1982 and 1983 it was American Rally legend John Buffum with his Audi quattro [the long one] who claimed the victories here, but his times were not good enough to become a real threat for the drivers of the established ‘Open Wheel’ category. In the record year 1982 Bill Brister powered his open-wheel Wells Coyote Chevy in 11:44.82 minutes to the summit, while Buffum needed 12:20.52 minutes for the 19.99kms long race course, by then still having a 100% dirt surface…
In early 1984 Martin Schanche told me that the PPIHC organisers had offered him a lot of money if he would come over to participate with his all-new Ford Escort Mk3 Xtrac/Zakspeed in their event. I agreed to go with him and that I would take care about our flights, while he would do the shipment of his car. But 1984 was also the year of the Los Angeles Olympics and I was not able to get tickets cheap enough to afford for me in those days. The result was that I stayed at home, while he was flying alone to Denver in Colorado. The car went with ‘Flying Tigers’ from Frankfurt on the Main in Germany and had been equipped with the necessary lamps all around, some street legal tyres as well as two Norwegian (or were they British?) registration number plates. Schanche had no towing car with trailer available and simply drove his 560bhp Xtrac Escort from the airport to the Pikes Peak area, and later back to the airport again, the XR3 being stuffed with all tools and spare parts.
When he arrived at the venue he was pretty surprised to find a rather great team of Audi Sport, together with French Rally lady Michèle Mouton and her Italian co-driver Fabrizia Pons. But racer, mechanic and team-manager in personal-union Schanche was on his own, unexpectedly facing the joint power of the German World Rally Championship squad. However, “Mister Rallycross” did a hell of a job and was on his way to put a spoke in Audi’s wheel, when all of a sudden losing a tyre.
After setting faster times than Mouton in practice, during the official race the Norwegian in the first third of the course was already a couple of seconds ahead of the “French Volcano” when his right front tyre gave up. The by then 3-times European Rallycross Champion pressed on regardless, reached the summit on three tyres and a grinded rim, but his time was useless, of course. The race commentator went completely nuts while hailing “the first racer ever to conquer the summit on three wheels”, but the expected victory as well as a feasible new overall track record had been missed. Better luck for Mouton/Pons then who claimed the win in ‘Open Rally’, but nevertheless also failed to drive the fastest overall time. Mouton reached the finish line after 12:10.38 minutes, while ‘Open Wheel’ racer Bill Brister won the event in 11:42.82 minutes.
PS: While Martin Schanche never went back to Pikes Peak it was Mademoiselle Mouton who claimed a new overall record time for Audi in 1985. With Finn Matti Alamäki (in 1986), Swede Olle Arnesson and Norwegian Tore H. Bratlie (both in 1987), and the late Norwegian Thor Holm (in 1988 as well as 1991) the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb runnings of the 1980s subsequently attracted four more Rallycross drivers.
The first pictures are from 1984 and show Schanche making the summit on three wheels.