This year proved that the historic Empire Hill Climb is truly revived. Participant numbers doubled compared to last year’s, and the cars were as varied as ever. There aren’t many places where you can see a stock car, a Miata Cup Car, drift cars, rally cars and a Pikes Peak Acura battle it out to be fastest up a hill. The exhaust notes ricochet against the trees and produce a sound so pleasant that it will tickle your eardrums and force even the crabbiest of car nuts to smile.
The spectators have the best and most comfortable view just above the race cars, with offerings of fresh oven-baked Rocco’s pizza and beverages there to replace the calories burned on the 100 yard walk. We may not be able to offer you pizza through a computer screen, not even the mouth-watering smells (not yet, anyway), but we can share what makes the Empire Hill Climb unique: its wide variety of racecars.
High-Speed Race Cars
Dynamic driver Peter Cunningham piloted his 2016 Acura TLX-GT Pikes Peak car up the half-mile, eight-turn stage and broke the overall course record with a 18.539-second time. Watching this car rip through the woods so fast that leaves spiraled in its wake is best witnessed and not just described. When he went back for a 17-second run, a road sign midway up the hill met its demise. The damages are repairable, but to our dismay, Cunningham had to sit on the sidelines for his remaining runs.
Then there was the purpose-built 2018 Mazda MX-5 Cup Car driven by Robin Warner and Jimmy Pelizzari. Aside from sharing a brilliant opportunity to maneuver a Global MX-5 Cup Car up the hill at (mostly) full-throttle, both Warner and Pelizzari also agree that turn three can either make you look like a pro-driving rockstar or wreck your day. They also agree that the MX-5 Cup Car is pretty awesome. This car was meant for the Hill Climb.
This Vintage Class Datsun 280Z, owned and driven by Jordan Easter, caught our eye. Aside from a swapped block filled with 280zx flat-top pistons for better compression, Jordan says the car is mostly stock. Sets of BC coilovers provide support during weight transitions through turns and over bumps, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun to drive.
Shortly after an incident with a jack stand, Michael Kelty pulled a best time of 25.106 seconds up the hill in his 1986 Porsche 944 Turbo. After ripping it up the hill all day, he drove 50 miles and arrived home, unscathed.
Evan Weider came to the Hill Climb with the mindset of having fun, safely. After more than its fair share of race car problems, the K-swapped ’93 Honda Civic CX proved its capabilities while speeding up the narrow, weathered road. Evan was thrilled. “I placed second in my class and sixth overall!” he said. The powerful little car is light and balanced, so the faster it goes, the more it hugs the road.
Last year, Cody Loveland tested the Beastie Hatch’s limits on the hill. This year, the car returned with an aero overhaul, but the downforce was too much for the clutch to handle. All joking aside, we hope to see this beast use all of its 460+hp in a competition again very soon.
And the Winner Is…
The overall, and Class 3, winner was Daniel Milewski in a race-prepped 2002 Chevrolet Corvette with a 20.462-second best climb. First on the podium for Class 1 was Mike Ryba piloting his 1993 Honda. Patrick Waligore came in at 21.021 with his drop dead gorgeous 1987 BMW 325is, which earned him first in Class 2. Adam Pickworth finished with 22.475 in the Vintage Class in his 1985 Mercedes-Benz 190E.
Story By Tara Hurlin – Published by Drivingline