Photography by Larry Chen
The Broadmoor Pikes Peak International Hill Climb (PPIHC) is not a race for the faint of heart. This hardcore 156-turn, 12.42-mile ascent to an unruly altitude of 14,115 feet is an assault on both man and machine, and the second-oldest motorsport race in America. It is both physically and emotionally a rollercoaster. This year, we had the inside scoop from Evasive Motorsports on what it took for the team to not only compete on this stage but finally conquer it after years of hardship.
For 2020, the event’s 98th running anniversary proved to be extremely stressful and challenging for them. However, Evasive’s dedicated crew of individuals stacked with a talented wheelman — 2011 Formula Drift Champion, Dai Yoshihara — an undying will to succeed, and a little luck yielded the achievement of first place in their class.
Rather than retell this extremely intense story, we thought it better to have a team member explain it instead. So, we called up the co-founder of Evasive Motorsports, Mike Chang, to recount this monumental accomplishment’s highs and lows. Strap in, and get ready to enjoy a story that will leave you stunned!
Mike Chang, Evasive Motorsports: Last year we overtested the car. We almost did too much, to the point where the car is fast, but it’s on edge. There’s a finite period where the car can run reliably. Especially in the mountains, if you run the car a minute too long, things start to fail. I learned that from experience, so the approach this year was not to overdo it. Make sure to get Dai some seat time, but we weren’t going to run the car for any extra time than we needed to. Obviously, there are pros and cons to that. One con is Dai doesn’t get as much practice, but at the end of the day, getting the car to last the entire run and finish was the priority.
The upper section was decent. We switched to a newer turbo this year — a larger turbo — the old turbo was a little bit small for the engine size, so it was generating a lot of backpressure and overheating the engine. To remedy this, we went with a bigger turbo, but there is a tradeoff. It’s not going to spool as quickly. Dai spent the morning trying to adjust his driving at the high altitude. It was very bumpy, too, but there were no real mechanical issues besides Dai just getting used to the car.
The middle section. On the second run, the car shut off on Dai. We thought the alternator had overheated or failed somehow, so we retired after that. Once we brought it back to our rental house, we found out it was a connector under some sort of shielding that broke, so it was just a freak accident. We don’t even know how that thing broke. It just snapped right at the end. With that broken, the car was running straight off the battery and just killed the charge within a few minutes. So, we didn’t get to run that section very much that day.
Day Three (Into Four)
So, we fixed the connector. Day three is qualifying on the bottom section. We thought the car was good to go, so Dai took off from the start line. On the first run, the throttle stopped working for him. It turned out to be some issue with the linkage between the throttle pedal and the unit that sends the drive-by-wire signal. Easy fix, so the car came back down the road, we fixed it, and we sent him off on the second run. Right about three-quarters of the way up, the car broke. This run is when Dai mentioned that the drivetrain gave out, so we’re thinking differential. But he felt it might be more than the diff. It might be a transmission issue because the car started skipping gears and doing some funny stuff. He pulled over to the side, and that was the end of the day.
It’s probably the worst week of practice we’ve had. Earlier I talked about saving the car by not practicing as much, but this was basically no practice for Dai. He barely drove the road.
Afterward, we took the car back to the house, hoping that it was just a diff that went out. We had an extra pumpkin that we swapped in, and the only way to test the car is to go to the track because we can’t just drive that thing on the street. We called Pikes Peak International Raceway, and they let us use the parking lot in the back, so we went there and got the car on the ground to test. Dai took it around, went through the gears, came back immediately, and said, “Nope, something’s wrong.” Shifting didn’t feel right to him. When downshifting, it would skip second gear. At that point, we knew the transmission was done. Keep in mind this is Thursday, so we’re scrambling.
I looked up the Samsonas North American contact, like a Hail Mary, to see if they had any parts available. When I called the number, a guy named Paul Ferreira picked up. I explained what was going on, what we were doing, and he replied, “You know what, I just landed in Colorado Springs.” He just so happened to be in town to support one of the Porsche teams. It’s crazy to think about even now! He was super helpful. He was even nice enough to meet us at the track right after he had landed at the airport. We only waited at the track for like 30 minutes, and sure enough, Paul shows up. You can’t make this stuff up.
Usually, we don’t have this type of luck. So we tell Paul the issue, and we all agree that we won’t know what needs to be fixed unless we remove the transmission and take it apart. That’s about the time when Eddie Lee from Titan 7 Wheels showed up and knew someone who owned a car dealership in the area. It turned out he was right. His contact owned a Honda dealership in Colorado Springs, called Freedom Honda. After a few attempts at reaching out to them, Eddie told us just to go there. It was already like 6 or 7 pm, and the dealership was closing. Eddie told us the word came from high up that the dealership had to stay open and wait for us to use their facilities. We got there around 7 pm. It was a very nice, brand new dealership. Once we settled in a bay, the dealership employees told us, “When you guys finish, just close the gate.” They left us there to work on the car, which was great.
That night we worked through the night to remove everything and took apart the transmission. Paul from Samsonas came back again and told us which parts we needed to replace. He said, “Tomorrow, (Friday) I’ll call you in the morning and let you know if I have the parts or not.” For reference, the company is based out of North Carolina. With the car disassembled and the timeline in place, we went back to the house.
Day Four (Into Five)
The next morning at about 8:30 am, I got a phone call from Paul saying, “Hey, I have all of the parts in stock. What I can do is ship them Next Day Air – Saturday Delivery to you guys.” In my mind, I’m just thinking we’re not going to do that based on experience. First of all, I don’t trust Next Day Air with any shipping companies these days. Second, even if we get the parts shipment on Saturday, who knows what time it will arrive? It will take a lot of time to get the car ready; I mean, Saturday is the day we’re supposed to load into our pit area on the mountain.
Right then and there, the only thought that came to my mind, the only way we could finish Pikes is if I drive my ass to Denver, fly to North Carolina, pick up the parts, and fly back in the same day. So I took off from there, at like 8:30 am I just left. While I was driving to Denver International Airport, I was booking flights on my phone. I booked a flight there, booked a flight back, arranged with the guy in North Carolina to meet me at the airport, so I could grab the parts and fly back as quickly as possible.
After I had already booked a flight, I was like halfway to Denver when Eddie called me and said, “I found a friend-of-a-friend in North Carolina who is down to grab those parts and fly into Colorado.”
I couldn’t believe it. I turned around, I canceled my flight, and started booking Eddie’s friend a flight, arranged all of the stuff to pick up the parts, and figured out his plane landed at 6 pm, which worked out nicely.
At 6 pm, I drove to Denver to pick up the parts and then went straight to Freedom Honda to meet up with the rest of the crew. We spent the whole night reassembling everything with the new pieces — this is now Friday going into Saturday. At 3 am, the car was finally back together and running again.
I tried to think about what’s causing the shock to the drivetrain, and why it seems every year we have a diff breaking. I think tuning has a lot to do with it. Right now, we have a sequential transmission, and if the ECU is not tuned to throttle bleed or ignition cut with the perfect timing for a shift, it sends a lot of shock through the drivetrain. I booked a dyno session with a local shop for Saturday morning. We had the car on the dyno for about 3-4 hours and tuned it to make driving smoother and more comfortable. After that, Dai drove it around the lot and said it felt okay, but couldn’t go fast. We took the car to our pit spot on Pikes Peak to set everything up without ever really knowing if it would last. The next day — Sunday — was race day.
Day Six (Race Day)
We were dead last to go because we didn’t even qualify. The car barely even ran on the qualifying day. One thing to know about Pikes Peak is that the more you wait, the more the weather changes. But we had no choice, so we were just sitting there. By the time it was getting close to our time to go, clouds were building up, it was getting dark, and I could even feel some drizzle. Now I’m thinking this ****ing sucks, after all that effort, we get rain. An hour before our scheduled time, one of our techs, JJ, went to start the car to warm it up and check the systems. I looked at him and noticed a stressed-out expression. The throttle body had stopped working altogether.
This moment is like less than an hour before we’re supposed to start, and we have no idea why it’s not working. We’re scrambling to think it must be a tuning issue, or this, or that. We started running around and went to BBi Autosport’s pit section because their car had already retired. They have a MoTeC-specific team member, so I asked if he wouldn’t mind coming to look at our car. I explained we’re almost up, and this piece is not working. The BBi/MoTeC guy follows us to the car, and at first, he couldn’t figure it out. You can’t how imagine stressed out I was. Our luck could not be any worse; we had a perfectly running car the day before. As a last option, he told us to try saving our tune calibration first, before uploading it to the ECU. In the past, we’d upload straight to the ECU without saving. Well, his solution fixed it! Once the car was running correctly, we got Dai to the line, and it was about to rain. I could feel a slight drizzle, but the pavement was warm enough that it wasn’t affecting traction.
We sent him off, and we just waited. Eventually, we got word that he finished! So we’re all at the bottom celebrating, and then Dai came down afterward. It’s a big celebration, and everyone was happy. I open the door, and I tell Dai, “Dude, good job, man! Congrats! How do you feel? You finished—we finished!”
The first thing he said to me was, “Hey! Sorry, I spun.”
I said, “What do you mean?”
I didn’t really care at the time because we were all so happy and celebrating. Later, I found out what Dai meant — he actually did spin, which only added to this year’s drama.
He downshifted too aggressively, the rearend locked up, he spun and hit the guardrail during his run. We saw the damage on the right rear quarter panel, and after examining it, we realized it was maybe a few millimeters away from puncturing the tire or damaging the suspension. There are pictures of the car pointing downhill at a full stop in sector 3. Dai said without the spin, he could have easily run a 9:55 pass.
At the end of the day, we’re just happy it finished, and everything went well, but we all know the 86 is a 9-minute car, for sure. Dai stopped in the middle of the road, pointing downhill, turned it around, went back up, and still ran a quick 10:05 pass.
So, that’s basically the whole story. We were only one second shy of being the fastest Toyota ever to go up Pikes. If he didn’t spin, it would have been the first Toyota in the 9-minute range and would have been the fastest Toyota ever. (Rod Millen currently holds the record with his Celica.)
I could tell at one point that everyone involved was on the brink of a breakdown — it was just too much. But luckily, it was a good result, so it was all worth it.
We couldn’t have done it without the help of our supporters, including Turn 14 Distribution, Toyo Tires, Titan 7 Wheels, Artisan Spirits, EVS Tuning, ENEOS USA, Garrett Motion, KW Suspensions, GReddy Performance, MotoIQ, Gran Turismo, OS Giken, Ignition Projects, and Sparco USA!
If one little thing didn’t fall into place the way it did, our whole effort would have failed. If Paul wasn’t as helpful as he was, if he didn’t have parts, or if someone from North Carolina didn’t fly our parts to Colorado. If Dai spun and hit the guardrail a little bit harder, the car would have retired there. This whole ordeal was just insane with so much drama. One little thing different would have just killed the entire program, but we made it.
In the end, Dai Yoshihara and the Evasive Motorsports team finished first place in the Unlimited class — ninth overall — at The Broadmoor 98th Running Pikes Peak International Hill Climb Presented by Gran Turismo, and successfully made it to the summit of one of the most treacherous racetracks in the world! From all of us at Front Street Media, a massive congratulations to everyone involved with their effort. We look forward to covering whatever the team at Evasive Motorsports sets its sights on next.