The 149-year-old Mt. Washington Auto Road has seen the likes of horses and carriages, camels, people, bicycles and most famously, competition race cars. Yesterday, traveling at an average speed of nearly 72 miles per hour in a Vermont SportsCar prepared, BFGoodrich Tires-shod 2011 Subaru Impreza WRX STI rally car, four-time Rally America National Champion Travis Pastrana made sure the project name, Red Bull Speed Chasers, lived up to its name. He reached the summit faster than anyone else in history by clocking an officially timed run of 6 minutes 20.47 seconds, besting the previous record by more than twenty seconds. Amazingly, Pastrana achieved the impressive 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 2011 after a 10-year hiatus.
The 7.6-mile-long 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 6,288 foot summit of the Northeast’s tallest peak. The road, which features more than 100 turns, is mostly paved but features a technical dirt section that is approximately one mile long. The road climbs 4,618 ft from an altitude of 1,527 ft 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 conditions at near the summit, as low rain clouds inundated the area. Pastrana’s test session was officially sanctioned by RallyCar (formerly Rally America).
“This is an amazing road, it’s just so much fun,” said Pastrana, who last New Year’s Eve, set the world record for distance jumping in a car at 269 feet. “It’s extremely challenging, there is no room for error and the scenery is epic. The Mt. Washington Auto Road has some amazing history to it.”
Pastrana, with his Vermont SportsCar team, as well as officials from the Mt. Washington Auto Road, conducted the Red Bull Speed Chasers test session to evaluate the 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 teamed with veteran co-driver Marshall Clarke of Ireland on his runs to the summit. The duo spent Tuesday familiarizing themselves with the auto road in a street car at legal roads speeds and made detailed stage notes, the same process used for stage rally competition. Both Pastrana and Clarke had never driven the Mt. Washington Auto Road before, and thus the detailed notes played a key role in the at-speed 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 United States, 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 Brickyard in Indianapolis and twelve years prior to the inaugural Pikes Peak Hillclimb in Colorado.
The Climb to the Clouds was then run sporadically until 1961, making a comeback in the 1990′s. The last time the Climb to the Clouds ran was in 2001 on a shortened course due to severe weather. In fact, the highest-recorded wind speed in the United States – an incredible 231 miles per hour – was on Mt. Washington in 1934.
“Travis’ run was incredibly thrilling on a number of fronts,” said Howie Wemyss, General Manager of the Mt. Washington Auto Road. “It’s amazing that he was able to drive that car to the summit in 6:20, and all the more so when you realize that he and his co-driver had just seen the Auto Road for the first time the day before, and the top quarter-mile was in thick fog! Our racing heritage here at the Auto Road runs deep, having started in 1904 and now Travis is part of that heritage as the fastest person to the summit by automobile.”