The Race to the Clouds
By David A. Kolman
I had a chance recently to visit with big rig racer and stunt truck driver Mike Ryan of Ryan Motor Sports. He had his championship Freightliner Century Class S/T super truck on display at the Heavy Duty Aftermarket Week event that took place in Las Vegas.
It was most interesting to see his race truck — a finely-tuned, powerful, customized truck — and to visit with Mike, a most interesting individual. A Hollywood stunt driver and stunt coordinator for more than 25 years, he has more than 500 feature films, television shows and commercials to his credit. But, he’s probably best known for his stunt work with rigs, and for his record-setting runs at the annual Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Mike told me he plans to once again compete in the event also known as the Race to the Clouds. The 88th Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is set for this June 27. The second oldest motorsports event in the U.S. after the Indianapolis 500, the race is roughly 12.5 miles long and climbs from an elevation of some 9,400 feet to more than 14,000 feet above sea level at a 7 percent average grade.
Mike and his super truck and the other contestants will have some competition from an unlikely challenger. Car manufacturer Audi has announced it will put its Autonomous Audi TTS Coupé Quattro driverless project car in the race.
The project car is the result of a collaboration between VW Group’s Automotive Innovation Laboratory, Stanford University and Sun Microsystems. The objective is to study how advancements in communications, driver assistance and other technologies can help motorists react to traffic and safety challenges on the road, including more autonomous handling of routine driving conditions, like bumper-to-bumper congestion. The idea behind the project is to develop a car that can perform as well, and respond as rapidly, as a professional racing driver, and eventually be able to take over or guide the driver around incidents.
The car would also compensate if a driver is inattentive to conditions or distracted. I’m looking forward to the race results.
Wonder if such technology will make its way into trucks?