Race to the Clouds

It’s 35 years since Audi broke the 11 minute mark at Pikes Peak.

Three years in a row Audi conquered the most famous hill climb in the world – Pikes Peak – culminating in the first sub-11 minute run in the hands of the great Walter Röhrl.

7 July, 2022

It's 20 kilometres of switchbacks climbing up from the start at 1440 metres to the peak at just over 4300 metres.

A great deal has changed at Pikes Peak in the last 35 years. The mountain is just as high as it was then, but the road up to the summit  has gone and become a whole lot more civilised than it used to be.

The famous hillclimb – without doubt the most famous hillclimb in the world – was first held there in 1916 on a torturous course that was dirt all the way to the top. Over the years, that course has changed from being a dirt track to the point where it is now all blacktop and there is actually some armco along the way where once there was nothing between the drivers and the great beyond.

At a fraction under 20 kilometres, it’s a significant climb with 156 corners between the start at 1440m elevation and the finish at 4302m.

It’s seen everything from ‘home made’ cars and outright race cars tackle its steep, challenging switchbacks, making for some amazing footage over the years and some truly inspired drives.

Given its significance as a world motorsport event, it comes as no surprise that the hillclimb, which is known as the ’Race to the Clouds’ attracted the attention of Audi, and another milestone in the brand’s history was written on that snaking climb up the Colorado mountain.

The brand’s assault on Pikes Peak began during the 1980s when the revolutionary quattro all-wheel drive was completely changing the face of international rally competition. Given the success of the brand’s rally monsters, it only made sense to see what they could do in Colorado, so champion rally driver and the first woman to win a World Rally Championship event, Michèle Mouton, became the first to take Audi to Pikes Peak, winning in the rally car class driving the Audi Sport quattro in 1984. 

In the following year, Mouton was back in Colorado for another attempt, this time winning in the outright category in another Audi Sport quattro with a blistering 11:25.39 minute run. Keep in mind that the first trophy awarded back in 1916 was to Rea Lentz with a time of 20:55.60 – so things were getting seriously quick.

In 1986, Mouton stepped back to allow another Audi driver, Bobby Unser sr., to tackle the climb, this time in an Audi Sport quattro S1. Unser again took the overall title and shaved 16 seconds off Mouton’s time, completing the climb in just 11:09.22 minutes. But Audi wasn’t finished with its assault on the Race to the Clouds.

In July 1987 – exactly 35 years ago – the Audi Sport quattro S1 was again the one to watch, this time with German driver, Walter Röhrl, behind the wheel. Not only did the Audi make it four wins in a row and three straight outright victories, but Röhrl became the first driver to break into the elusive 10 minute bracket, posting a lightening 10:47.85 minute time and cementing another milestone for the Audi brand in world motorsport. 

In 1987, Audi not only made it three outright wins, but broke into the sub-11 minute mark for the first time

Walter Röhrl and the Audi Sport quattro S1 have been reunited numerous times since that record-breaking run in 1987.