SRTUSA gears up for sky-high thrills at the Subaru Mt. Washington Hillclimb on July 7.
Punishing corners. Ruthless surface changes. Unpredictable conditions. Hill climbs are unlike any other motorsport competition. The challenge isn’t entirely man-made, like in rallycross − it’s carved into the side of a mountain. If other styles of racing fall into the “man versus man” classic conflict narrative, hill climbs are the definitive “man versus nature” take, and the stakes can be, well, even higher.
Best known among North American hill climb events is the infamous Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The grueling 12.4-mile slog to a 14,000-foot peak is a rite of passage for some of the world’s best drivers. But there’s another, older hill climb that many believe is an even tougher challenge − the Mt. Washington Hillclimb. It pre-dates the first official Pikes Peak run by 12 years, features a greater change in elevation per mile and is even more technical. Additionally, unlike Pikes Peak, the Mt. Washington Hillclimb has both gravel and tarmac sections. Subaru became a title sponsor of the event in 2014, the same year Subaru Rally Team USA’s (SRTUSA) David Higgins set a course record of 6 minutes and 9 seconds in a modified WRX STI. Not far behind was teammate Travis Pastrana. And on July 7, both drivers are ready to lay it all on the line again.
“The Subaru Mt. Washington Hillclimb is an event like no other,” says Paul Giblin, race director. “It’s a true motorsport festival that includes three days of racing and socializing in one of the most magnificent settings in the world, the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The event draws competitors from rallying, road racing, time attack and hill climb backgrounds, all there to do one thing − face off against the mountain.”
For fans, the excitement factor is amped up with VIP access to drivers and jaw-dropping vantage points. Spectators can even take in the action from the Mt. Washington Auto Road, an historic passageway dating back to the mid-19th century.
David Higgins set another Hillclimb record in 2014. Photo: © Lars Gange, subaru.com/rally 2014
At the summit, starting line and anywhere in between, attendees are in for thrills this year with the new Unlimited Class, which promises more powerful cars and faster trials. Higgins and Pastrana will have plenty of stiff competition − including SRTUSA engineer Paul Tingaud, who finished third overall in 2014. “There’s no doubt he has the ability to compete for the overall record as well,” says Giblin.
Record holder David Higgins, however, is the defending champion. The Isle of Man native, who took home the title in 2011 and 2014 − the last two times the race was held − is raring to go. “Prep for this event started the day I knew it was back on, so I can guarantee I’ll be ready for a big attack,” he says. Without co-drivers in the Unlimited Class, Higgins and other competitors need to bring their A games.
Travis Pastrana on course during the 2014 Subaru Mt. Washington Hillclimb. Photo: © David Seaver, subaru.com/rally 2014
Having the [unofficial] record up the mountain was one of my greatest accomplishments on four wheels.
Challenging Higgins is teammate Pastrana, who set an unofficial record on Mt. Washington in 2010. “Having the [unofficial] record up the mountain was one of my greatest accomplishments on four wheels,” says Pastrana. “Missing the win by less than 5 seconds and losing to David in 2014 was tough. Breaking the Hillclimb record would be huge for me.”
Higgins, Pastrana and other drivers can only hope that the mountain will be on good behavior. Often, the weather near the base is nothing like what drivers experience toward the summit. Low clouds can quickly obscure a clear road ahead; sunlight can create a blinding glare; and strong winds can kick dust up into a storm.
In short, the Mt. Washington Hillclimb is an intense, unique and thrilling challenge.
“It’s not a standard rally stage where we can make mistakes,” says Pastrana. “One small bobble, too much sliding or not enough aggression in a single corner is all it takes to see the record slip through your grasp.”
In light of its many tricky dynamics, Higgins and Pastrana both believe Mt. Washington is the standard for hill climbs − and that includes Pikes Peak. “Surface changes and bumps make Mt. Washington far more demanding,” says Higgins. “It’s much closer to a real rally-style road, where Pikes Peak is like a wide, smooth circuit.”
“This is the toughest and most exciting hill climb for drivers,” says Pastrana.
This July, drivers from around the world will face one of the most technical courses in all of motorsports. Regardless if conditions are friendly or frightening, it will take superhuman skill to maintain control. The challenge is on, and the drivers are hungry. You don’t want to miss this.