#GRIDLIFE Alpine Horizon
by Rob Wilkinson - 8/10/19
The Midwest’s biggest motorsport festival is heading West
Nestled in the mountains just outside of Colorado Springs, Pike’s Peak International Raceway is a small asphalt track that sits near the base of perhaps the world’s most famous hillclimb of the same name. At 1.3 miles, the road/oval configuration at PPIR offers incredible trackside access and a challenging infield, with a picturesque backdrop unlike anything else in the country. The sky towers above you and mountains that inspire dreams stand tall in the distance. But let’s face it, with pro drifters dragging their ass along the wall at full speed and concerts in full swing behind them, nobody was staring at the mountains anyway.
Colorado locals got their first taste of a Gridlife festival last weekend when the crew packed up the party and headed out West to host the first ever Alpine Horizon event. A motorsports and music festival traditionally centered around motorsports during the day and music at night, Gridlife wanted to bring fans and spectators a new experience that only Colorado could offer. In addition to the regularly scheduled programming of racecar and drift awesomeness, Alpine Horizon offered drivers and spectators the chance to test their skills on multiple dirt rally courses in custom-built Sierra Cars and/or their own personal vehicles. And that was all before the sun went down. For the first time ever, drift sessions continued into the darkness while artists like Borgore and GTA kept the place bumping under the gorgeous Colorado backdrop.
With the festival kicking off Friday morning, I landed in Denver on Thursday to rendezvous with Gridlife photographer Brad Sillars before we grabbed a rental and headed to the track. Having lived in Montana for the better part of ten years, I used the time on our drive to soak in the big sky that I had become so accustomed to while living out here. The sky is simply huge and expansive and doesn’t look like it’s painted on the ceiling like it does out East. Hard to describe. Anyway, we made our way South from Denver and took in the landscape, the fresh air, and a trailer fire off the side of the highway that would have made a great album cover. Good start. Before long, we were dropping our bags at the hotel and checking into the media center at PPIR for credentials and a brief on our priorities. Standing on the roof of the media tower, you could feel the excitement build in the warm paddock air. This was going to be a good one.
First thing the next morning, engines came roaring to life before the 7:30am driver’s meeting and impact guns started spinning lugs on and off. Slowly but surely drivers were getting suited up to go race around with their hair on fire, all trying to set the fastest time the universe would allow that day. Temps were good, the track had grip, and everyone had to be on their game right away if they wanted to ensure a top spot. After the HPDE cars got their morning session in, the Time Attack drivers pulled out on track and started to rip.
These are the cars that get the Instagram hits. Huge wings over the roof, massive splitters tied to the frame, lexan, LMP rubber, you name it. Unlimited builds are only restricted to a production car chassis and standard safety equipment, so drivers and builders are free to explore nearly any idea they can imagine that might produce laptime. For Gridlife, it’s usually James Houghton and Will Au-Yueng battling it out for the lead in their record-setting Hondas, but in their absence at Alpine Horizon, some pretty rad cars took their place.
With a break in his hectic TCR schedule, Honda pro driver and Gridlife bestie Tom O’Gorman found the time to pilot a number of different vehicles over the weekend, including a rally-prepped Honda Pilot, but the Unlimited class Hasport turbo Honda Prelude was probably one of my favorites. Brian Gillespie of Hasport escorted the car to Colorado himself and let Tom wheel the crap out of it all weekend in Time Attack. Despite some minor mechanicals along the way, Tom was able to get the little track-prepped 4-cylinder down to a minute flat around PPIR, easily within striking distance of some other cars with significantly more power and tire.
Topping the charts in Unlimited however was Ben Johnson in the Bluewater Performance/Canna Cola Audi S3. Ben drove really well all weekend, had people asking “Is that a DTM car?” and put down a 58.8 by the time things were said and done. “Tom-O” had second place locked down in the Hasport Prelude, and driver Alex Vincent Peitz took the #116 C7 Corvette to 3rd in class. Peitz Performance actually brought two Corvettes this weekend, with Alex running the Unlimited C7 and driver Feras Qartoumy setting the 2nd fastest lap overall in their Track Mod C6. Why did the Track Mod car go faster you ask? The C7 has nitrous, so Alex wanted to make sure it was classified correctly in UL even though he wasn’t spraying. The C6 has significant aero development and is stripped down to 2800lbs, hence the faster lap time. In the future Alex has been cleared to run the C7 in Track Mod with no spray.
By the end of the first session, Track Mod competitor Jeremy Swenson had topped the overall charts and gapped the field with the only sub 1:00 time on the board. He was flying, but fast on his heels was actually a Street Mod Evo piloted by Shawn Krebsbach. Shawn turned a 1:01.9 the first session, and eventually whittled that down to a 59.8 later in the weekend, good enough for 4th overall. Even though he was out of class, there was a solid back and forth between Krebsbach and Swenson to go deeper into the sub-one minute territory. Suddenly a wild Corvette appeared and Feras Qartoumy laid down a 57.7 in his #106 Track Mod Z06, coming close to the 57.4 of Swenson but ultimately not being able to topple the Gridlife regular. It was pretty clear right way though, Corvettes were fairing well across the board. Rounding out the class was Ben Council in his amazingly quiet twin-turbo C5 Corvette, which spent a good amount of time sideways exiting T2, much to the delight of onlookers and this photographer. Rain or shine, he was lighting them up.
Other notable Track Mod cars were a minty 944 Turbo S driven by Brandon Collins, and a flame-spitting, meticulously built, rotary-swapped Impreza 2.5rs that turned heads all weekend at the hands of driver Scott Molitor. Yeah... Dorito Impreza. It was legit.
FCP Euro Street Mod
Street Mod class is always a good time. A number of regulars made it out to CO, and a handful of drivers new to Gridlife came out and tried their hand at setting the fastest lap in heavily modified street cars. This class is perfect for drivers that really want to push their cars on the track, but still might want to drive them there occasionally and aren’t interested in spending absurd amounts of money on R&D every season. You won’t find F1 aero packages in Street Mod, but you will find Evos and Subies and M3s with wings and things and carpet and a radio. Beyond that you’re bumped into Track Mod. What you end up with is a super competitive class of regular folks wanting to go as fast as a regular budget will allow. The class is stacked because of that.
Emerging at the top of the charts was Shawn Krebsbach, who regularly punches above his weight. Shawn’s lap of 59.8 in the Evo was not only good enough to win Street Mod, but as mentioned was 3rd overall and would have podiumed in both Track Mod and Unlimited. The dude is flying this season, and his car still has an interior. Most of it anyway. SM was rounded out by two other Gridlife regulars, Michael Pagano and Eric “Dewey” DeWitt. Michael has one of the hottest BMW E46s on grid, and Dewey has been campaigning his scary fast Impreza “Boogeyman” this season. We also saw Ben Ryan out in his amazing BMW E30, David Vong in his tiger-striped 86, and a host of other SM drivers in Subies, Miatas, and BMWs.
A new class for the 2019 season, Street GT aims to include all the new RWD v8 track monsters like the Camaro and Mustang. Now that these cars can finally turn instead of just blowing the doors off people in a straight line, it only makes sense to have a class that lets them all play. For Alpine Horizon, we saw Gridlife regular Chris Bickford take his C7 ‘Vette to the top spot in class, followed closely by Monique Forsythe and Garrett Mays. Monique piloted her E92 M3 to 2nd, and Garrett took his R32 GTR to 3rd in class.
This is the class for people who want to get out on track and compete, but aren’t interested in crazy builds or spending a ton of money. With some good tires and safe brakes, anyone can take their street car and see how it stacks up against the competition in Street Class. Full interiors, no aero, no slicks, no motor swaps… this is the class that makes Gridlife accessible unlike any other event. Have a stock Civic? Bring it out and wring its neck around courses all over North America! Winner in class was Marc Johnson in his sleak Audi S3, with Josh Tenge less than a tenth behind in his Audi TT RS. Third place was brought home by Adam Wood in his Subaru Impreza.
Also new for this year is the Gridlife Touring Cup, a chance for drivers to go wheel-to-wheel in an array of cars built to a 12.5:1 weight to power ratio. Get your car to the right comp weight, choose your tires and aero allowances, and you’re good to go. The formula, devised by the Gridlife staff, has so far produced amazingly close racing with no clear front runner after 3 rounds of action. With inaugural race winners Eric Kutil and Aaron Leichty absent for the weekend, Myriad Motorsports drivers and racing power-couple Tiffany Anne Kelly and Justin Kelly saw a clear path to victory and took it. Tiffany won three races, Justin snagged a win on Sunday and found himself on the podium multiple times. Driver Nick Stentiford brought his S2k home in 2nd place nearly every race, which elped him claim 2nd overall in GLTC for the weekend. Track owner Bob Boilean had his BMW wagon out on course for each race, and TA regular Jeremy Boysen also continued to campaign his BRZ build in GLTC. Highlights of the weekend almost always included Tiffany Anne Kelly, who was our first female race winner, made multiple passes on the outside for the lead, and overtook the entire field in one lap, in the rain, when she started in back for the inverted grid. That was seriously awesome to see. This girl can wheel and her s2k is built to the limit of the class which makes it lightning fast. Cheers Tiffany!
PPIR Track Sprint
New to Gridlife and unique to PPIR, the Track Sprint format provided some interesting competition on Sunday for the Time Attack drivers. Instead of traditional hotlaps, drivers were given multiple runs on a reverse infield auto-x style layout to see who could learn and dominate the course quickly. Adapting quickly to the unfamiliar layout was Jeremy Swenson, taking his C7 Vette to an overall fastest time by a margin of over one second. Usually Swenson is murdering cones in iRacing but he didn’t clip any today when it counted. Krebsbach was right on his tail again, as was the #106 Corvette of Feras Qartoumy.
The big difference between your average track day and a Gridlife festival is the music. And the drifting. And the car show. And the exhibition rides. And the sim racing. And the crowds. And the energy in the air that just can’t be described and has to be felt to be believed. Colorado took that energy to another level this time around and even in its debut form, Alpine Horizon had all the buzz that brings us back to the Midwest and South festivals every year. With the super accessible layout of PPIR, spectators were able to get closer than ever to all the drift action, and the main stage was directly next to the track and central on the grounds. The setup was near perfect.
Cross the underground pedestrian tunnel to the outskirts of PPIR and you emerge in front of not one, but two separate dirt rally courses that span nearly 3 miles. Gridlife had Sierra Cars running on the short course, and Rally exhibitions on the long course. Honda drivers Tom O’Gorman and Shelby Blackstock were on hand to give ride alongs around the course and for the first time ever, Gridlife spectators could hop in one of the Sierra Cars or their own ride and tackle the rally themselves. Pro drifters Chris Forsberg and Ryan Tuerck each took turns shredding the Sierra cars, and HPDE instructor Mark Nuguid took full advantage of his rally lights, running his Time Attack Toyota Celica around the course multiple times. With those lights up front, he’s probably been waiting for that his whole life! We also saw a mint 70s Camaro out on course, and James Kirkham had the Race Service cars kicking up dirt all weekend.
It wouldn’t be a festival without a whole lot of tire shredding from the drift cars, and PPIR proved to be a fantastic place for spectators to get up close and personal with some of the best drifters in the world. Sessions got intense as the night progressed, and everyone was really throwing down on the infield walls in huge trains. We saw Forsberg and Tuerck, Ryan Litteral and Forest Wang, Nate Hamilton, Corey Hosford, Rob “Chairslayer” Parsons… the deck was stacked with pros and you could tell by the show they put on. At one point Hamilton was literally dripping fire to the point we were worried, but he kept shredding the full course. Insane! Everyone ran super tight all weekend without any major incidents, and the local guys threw down hard by jumping right into those pro trains.
As my own tank was running empty late Saturday night, I made my way back to the roof of the media tower and took a minute for myself just to appreciate the absolute spectacle that is Gridlife. Watching the concert from a distance, seeing the crowd move, and now feeling the wind blow across the Colorado landscape, it was really something special. Gridlife has become more than the sum of its parts, more than just a track day, and more than just a festival. There’s a movement here. The energy that these events bring is beyond what you’ll find driving around in circles, and beyond what you’d ever expect from a typical track day or music festival. Every event is the best one yet, and Gridlife is showing no signs of slowing down. Off to Road Atlanta!