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Under Pressure: Racing Pikes Peak in a Twin-Turbo Mustang
It's more than the mountain's altitude, the week's sleeplessness, or the mechanical heartbreak that'll change you at the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb—it's the people. Racing families are the friends who'll even turn down beer money to see you through to the end; the satisfaction of finishing (or at least being a few paces ahead of two-steps back) is payment enough.
We first met Kash Singh in 2013 while diagnosing a banging noise from the back of his Time Attack 2class 2008 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500. The Fiji-born gentleman racer—a product planner in Dearborn, Michigan—was known for a wealth of antics on the mountain (such as bringing KFC up to the peak so fellow drivers could eat something a little different than donuts while waiting the race out), and this introduction was no different. The banging sound coming from the rear-right corner of the car was caused when the intercooler pump began leaking on the factory subwoofer, shorting it on and off. Take a moment to think about this: a Pikes Peak International Hill Climb Time Attack race car bumping dancefloor beats.
Kash is also known for road-tripping his Pikes Peak race car thousands of miles to and from the race, and he's one of the only racers to still do it. In previous years, he used a near-stock Time Attack 2class GT500 to drive from Michigan to Colorado before unloading the trunk at the hotel and driving right to tech inspection. In 2016, he entered an EcoBoost Mustang, but some greater power told him via three red-flagged runs (due to weather or crashes ahead) the turbo-four was not meant to be.
For 2017, he decided to step up a class by entering the less-restrictive Time Attack 1 field with a newly built, twin-turbo 2017 Ford Mustang GT. Built by Revolution Speed Shop and supported by Amsoil and Tire Rack, the S550 received a pair of turbos to feed the factory-fresh, DOHC, 5.0L V8—which was still wearing its warranty before it entered RSS, and the hands of Scott Jensen, Jerad Veitch, and Brett Flores
Parts delays meant no track time before the race, and he'd have to learn everything about this new combination during practice—a trial by hillclimb. The new car made substantially more power, had more grip, and built boost in an entirely different manner than the factory-blown Shelby. "I knew it was going to be fast, and I knew it was going to be different," Kash explained. "So I needed to figure out what gear I had to be in and how the turbocharged powerband felt."
Practice began on Pikes Peak's least-aggressive portion, the lower section from the start line to Glen Cove. The initial 2,000-foot climb is mostly comprised of sweepers, though corners like Engineers and Sump catch unsuspecting drivers with regularity.
With preservation and reliability in mind, the stock 5.0 was tuned for low boost, with the twin turbos providing altitude compensation more than anything else with only 8 psi. Each practice morning began by driving the race car straight from the hotel to the pit spot, throwing on some safety gear, and then cruising up to the start.
"Number 78 is off, Cog Cut," our race radio screeched through the static. Nearly 2,000 miles from home, Kash had a hard "off" during mid-section practice. Three days of progressive speed in each practice session, and he had pushed just an inch too hard on one of the road's rough patches. With no further radio calls for EMT or rescue personnel, we got the impression that Kash was OK, but the Cog was a dramatic spot to go off. While entering the braking zone, the car hit a washboard section of road, causing it to skitter across the high points under heavy braking and blowing through the turn. Kash managed to keep it on the mountain, but he cleared a 2-foot drainage ditch in the process, stuffing the plywood splitter, aluminum coolers, and fiberglass nose into the rocks.
"At first, I was walking through my head about how expensive it was going to be to tow it back home, how expensive flights were going to be this last-minute," he recalled. "And what I'd have to tell my mom! I thought it was going to be done."
After the practice sessions ended, the flatbed hauled Kash and the Mustang downhill where they met with Devon Dobson, his crew chief, and PCS Motorsports'Mario Tomlin, another member of the Pikes family. Mario knew of alocal Colorado Springs shop ran by Loren Southard, European Performance Specialists. Through sheer luck, there was no visible chassis damage, but the Mustang's relocated fuse block had been ripped of dozens of wires. While the Blue Oval's ponycar was built in Dearborn, its complex CAN-BUS networked electrical system was first adopted by BMW—right up Loren's alley.
Randy's Towing dropped the car off, and Kash fended off a horde of concerned callers. While he settled family fears and began sourcing parts, Mario and Loren started work on the Mustang. The wreck had not only damaged the fuse block but had crushed the intercooler, radiator, and A/C condenser—and the hood was stuck! The shop quickly shuffled cars around to clear a bay and get the Mustang in the air. Kash, being a Blue Oval employee, was able to quickly get ahold of the exact wiring diagrams, and Loren began his work.
While the crew at European Performance Specialists started to work their magic, Kash ran the bumper over to the shop of a fellow Pikes racer, Jimmy Keeny. Universally known as one of the nicest guys on the mountain, Jimmy offered to patch up the fiberglass front bumper and shoot some paint, while Kash ran to a local hardware store for more plywood for the front splitter.
Loren had managed to re-pin the Mustang's fuse block, even sourcing the obscure connectors and terminals needed. With a little back and forth on the pin-outs, and only a few sparks, the Mustang fired to life.
They later returned to Loren's shop with a freshly painted bumper, sheets of plywood, and a stack of pizzas. It was going to be a long night—practice was still on for the next morning—but with the help of Loren's crew, fellow Pikes Peak racer Andy Kingsley, and Devon, Kash drove the car out of the shop just in time for a nap.
Trepidation had set in, but Kash couldn't show it. The first run was slow, but served as a safety check of the prior day's work. With the Mustang running as expected, Kash began dropping chunks of time to a final 5:17.303 qualifying time with the third run.
Friday's practice was a conservative mid-section run to Devil's Playground. The car continued to pick up speed over Kash's previous GT500, but ultimately the day would end early as a nearby storm rolled over the mountain's winding ridges.
As the fanfare roweled up in the morning—race day—Kash gave his street car a once-over, topping off the motor with a shot of Amsoil and double-checking tire pressures.
Belts strapped, helmet on, and HANS hooked, Kash rolled up to the line, guided by Pikes' official starter, Dave Jordan. Weather reports from the peak came in steadily: clear conditions, despite the low clouds rolling in during the afternoon. With a press of a button and a flash of green, Kash was off. The twin turbos quickly spooled into a high-pitched song as he cleared the official timed start, winding through the top of Second. Around the timing screens, something of a family reunion occurred, with fellow racers and friends anxiously watching for another red-flag nightmare—2017 would prove to be a full-pull. Other than dodging some goats at nearly 11,000 feet, Kash was able to push the Mustang comfortably to a personal best of 13:22.636.
Some races are about pure survival more than ultimate victory, and Gear Vendors HOT ROD Drag Week, powered by Dodge, is one of them. More than climbing to the top of the podium, seeing the peak of the mountain is worth more weight in respect and satisfaction than just about anything else. Winning is what you make of it. For Kash, this year's win was a new personal best in a car that challenges his comfort zones as a driver in ways that only Pikes Peak can.