Pikes Peak 2023: Perseverance, Progress and Remembrance

Pikes Peak 2023 was the stuff of legend, and this amazing bunch of people made it so.

We got the RiffRaff Diesel powered R35 GTR at left to the summit of over 14,000 feet and achieved the team goal of breaking the previous diesel record.

Texas Dave from Rally Ready Driving School in the Sierra Alpha shown at right ran an impressive 10:03 after being away from the mountain for years.

Lucy Block summited on her rookie pass at Pikes in the new electric powered Sierra Echo at center.

And the icing on the cake was Lia Block closing out race day with a special tribute to her late father Ken Block, taking the pink Hoonipigasus shown in back to the top.

For those who aren’t familiar, Pikes Peak Hill Climb is held once a year in Colorado. It is one of the highest altitude motorsport events in the world, with elevation gained approaching 5000 feet over the 12+ miles course to the finish is at the summit beyond 14,000 feet. Due to the altitude and temperature range, unpredictable weather and road conditions, the event poses unique technical challenges, and creates a lot of excitement.

While I’m used to handling engine calibration duties along with other vehicle electronics and race engineering, I don’t tune diesels. The only engine tuning I did for Pikes this year was a quick touch up on turbocharged bike engine in the Sierra Alpha. With someone else focused on tuning the compound turbo Ford Powerstroke 6 liter in this truly one of a kind Nissan GTR, I had the opportunity to focus on everything else.

In advance I prepared a host of sensors and datalogging equipment to gather data valuable not only to improving the car’s chances of success, but to aid RiffRaff in future product development. If removing a perfectly good twin turbo gas engine from a Nissan GTR to put a massive old school diesel engine in doesn’t seem the fastest or lightest way up the mountain, you are correct, but it makes perfect sense as an R&D project for Powerstroke specialist RiffRaff.

Through data collection and analysis I was able to quickly pinpoint areas where the biggest improvements could be made. Working with the team comprised of staff from Lyfe Motorsport and RiffRaff Diesel, we improved multiple cooling systems. I found electrical system limitations and developed a comprehensive workaround for race day involving staging various electrical system loads to avoid exceeding the capacity of multiple components in order to avoid unexpected shut down.

Of course I’d love to show up to the mountain with a fully sorted car and let the only limitations be weather, course conditions, and driver error. Due to a combination of parts shortages and other delays, budgetary and time constraints, it was a last minute hustle. The focus was getting the car in shape to make it to the top of the mountain, with breaking the prior diesel record being the stretch goal.

Through a massive team effort I’ve come to expect from this crowd, all goals were achieved. The GTR went to the top, and broke the prior diesel record despite having to limit the car in a number of ways to get it to the top. As if race day couldn’t get any better, all the cars shown went to the top. Dreams were fulfilled, memories honored.

RiffRaff is looking to make a return to Pikes Peak in 2024 and Innovative Tuning has planned solutions for multiple areas identified for improvement.

  • Water spray will be employed to improve charge air cooling, and water and oil heat exchanger efficiency at high altitude.
  • A new dry sump oil tank should resolve a critical high G shortcoming.
  • The Aim dash and PDM, and old wiring and alternator present before I got involved with the project are being replaced.
  • A new high output alternator to suit the massive total draw of this beast will be fitted.
  • Motec dash and auxiliary CAN input devices will centralize data gathering and review.
  • 3 ECUMaster PDMs and club level battery cutoff will handle power distribution.

Other areas the team hopes to have time and budget for include upgrading the stock braking system, adding ABS, and weight reduction. Bring on 2024!