Thursday, September 9, 2010

Travis Pastrana takes on Mt. Washington

The 149 year-old Mount Washington Auto Road has seen the likes of horses, carriages, camels, bicycles and racecars try to set a record time up the hill. Yesterday, traveling at an average speed of nearly 72mph, four-time Rally America National Champion Travis Pastrana made sure Red Bull Speed Chasers lived up to its name.
In a 2011 Subaru Impreza WRX STI rally car prepared by Vermont SportsCar and shod with BFGoodrich tires, he reached the summit faster than anyone else in history. The official record time was 6 minutes 20.47 seconds, beating the previous record by more than 20 seconds.
Amazingly, Pastrana achieved the time on his first ever high-speed run to the summit. Pastrana has effectively thrown down the gauntlet in advance of the legendary Mt. Washington “Climb to the Clouds” Automobile Hillclimb, which will take place in June 2011 after a 10-year hiatus.

The 7.6-mile Mt. Washington Auto Road is one of the ultimate challenges for driver and automobile. The serpentine tarmac and gravel road is lined with trees and dangerous drop-offs above the mountain’s tree line as it winds its way to the 6,288ft summit of the Northeast’s tallest peak.

The road, which features more than 100 turns, is mostly paved but features a technical dirt section approximately one mile long. The road climbs 4,618ft from an altitude of 1527ft, with an average gradient of 11.6%.
Pastrana was up to the challenge, and on his first attempt was able to set his fast time, besting “Climb to the Clouds” Hillclimb record holder Frank Sprongl’s time of 6 minutes 41.99 seconds, set in 1998. Pastrana attempted three more runs but each time he was slowed by near-zero visibility near the summit caused by low rain clouds. Pastrana’s test session was officially sanctioned by RallyCar (formerly Rally America).

“This is an amazing road. It’s so much fun,” said Pastrana, who last New Year’s Eve, set the world record for distance jumping in a car at 269ft. “It’s extremely challenging. There’s no room for error but the scenery is epic. The Mt. Washington Auto Road has some amazing history to it.”

Pastrana and officials from the Mt. Washington Auto Road conducted the Red Bull Speed Chasers test to evaluate road conditions ahead of the 2011 Climb to the Clouds, which will make a return June 22-26, 2011 as part of the 150th anniversary of the Mt. Washington Auto Road.

Pastrana was teamed with veteran co-driver Marshall Clarke from Ireland on his run to the summit. The duo spent Tuesday familiarizing themselves with the road in a street car at legal speeds, making detailed stage notes; the same process used for stage rally competition. Both Pastrana and Clarke had never driven the Mt. Washington Auto Road before, so the notes played a key role in the record attempt the following day.

The Mt. Washington Auto Road was completed in 1861 and is the oldest man-made attraction in North America. Considered one of the oldest motorsports events in the US, the Climb to the Clouds was first run in 1904, with a winning time of 24 minutes 37 seconds, seven years before the first 500-mile race at the Indianapolis and 12 years before the inaugural Pikes Peak Hillclimb in Colorado.

The Climb to the Clouds ran sporadically until 1961, making a comeback in the 1990s. The last time the Climb to the Clouds took place was in 2001 on a shortened course due to severe weather. In fact, the highest-recorded wind speed in the US – an incredible 231mph - was on Mt. Washington in 1934.