By Kris Hansen
“This Car Climbed Mount Washington”. Chances are, if you live within driving distance to New Hampshire’s White Mountain region, you’ve seen a car wearing a decal professing just that. You can add one more, as now our 2013 Audi allroad has the drive under its belt in this latest installment of our Long Term allroad series.
Without spending too much time on the history of the Mount Washington Auto Road itself (if you want to read about the hows whys and whens, check out this link – http://mtwashingtonautoroad.com/drive-yourself/history/), the history of the Mount Washington hill climb, aka the climb to the clouds is what we want to talk about, as it is in fact the primary reason we wanted to make this drive.
First run in 1904, the Mt. Washington Hillclimb – aka Climb to the clouds- is one of the oldest motorsport events held in the USA, predating both Pike’s Peak and the Indianapolis 500. Perhaps due to waning interest, or a lack of funds, The CTTC wasn’t run consistently in the years following the 1961 event (which was won by Bill Rutan in a Porsche powered VW by the way).
In 1990, after a 29 year time out, the CTTC was brought back – partly with the help of longtime Audi rally ace John Buffum, and Audi, which was the primary sponsor of the CTTC for a number of years. For the Audi trifecta, the most recent overall fastest time up the trecherous hill was owned by another Audi rally ace, Canadian Frank Sprongl, who in 1998 hurled himself up the Auto Road in a time of 6 minutes and 42 seconds.
That record stood effectively unchallenged till 2011, when Subaru decided the CTTC was a great idea, and sent Travis Pastrana to Mt. Washington in a rally prepared Subaru WRX STI. Pastrana managed to beat Sprongl’s record by 20 seconds. But, because that run wasn’t at the actual CTTC event (it was held privately), most discounted the time as being “the record”. Later that year, Subaru came in to sponsor the full on CTTC, and brought another rally ace, David Higgins. Higgins proceeded to completely smash the time Pastrana set by another 10 seconds, in the same car. (We’d like to point out that the road has more asphalt than it did when Sprongl set his time, and we’d love to see what Frank can do in an equally modern car on the same road, but we digress). Our coverage of that event is here.
Back to today, and our drive up the mountain. After paying the $34.00 entry, we received a packet of information, which includes the self guided tour on CD, as well as the coveted bumper sticker.
As we head up the Auto Road, our thoughts are of those racers who came before us up this twisty, narrow stretch of asphalt. The road’s surface is very coarse, thanks to the tire chains used by service vehicles in the wintertime. It winds and undulates along at a relatively gentle grade early on, below the tree line. Because we are there on a normal day, downhill traffic is a very real hazard, and the guidelines suggest not exceeding 25 mph, which sounds slow and boring, but is in fact not too bad given the road’s absolutely unforgiving nature. Imagining how fast the CTTC participants come up this hill as we crawl along made it all the more amazing as we thread through narrow bridges and corners with boulders and bare mountain side at the apex. This is a very unforgiving road at speed. There is NO runoff, few guardrails and no room for error.
Even at our modest pace, we’re seeing signs that this road is taking its toll on some other vehicles. We see a motorcycle which has overheated, as well as a variety of downhill headed people pulled off with smoking brakes. Our allroad had no problems whatsoever, and the 2.0TFSI engine would have been perfectly happy if we were able to open the taps a little and upped the pace. We would have been happier too, but unfortunately there was traffic ahead of us on the road.
The day we were at Mount Washington, the cloud cover was low, somewhat obscuring the scary unprotected drops that face drivers as the road pops out of the trees and into the mountain’s alpine climate. the scenery is beautiful nonetheless, but as we get higher up the mountain, visibility becomes less and less.
This is ok though, as we’re more interested in the drive. At the point where the road turns from asphalt to dirt, we reminisce to our last visit to this place, when David Higgins came through the tight rock lined horseshoe shaped “cragway bend” at full chat, fully sideways, in an awesome display of car control. needless to say we didn’t have the chance to try to duplicate this move, and we’re not sure we could pull it off anyway.
As we pass by the area which serves as the CTTC finish line, nearly 20 minutes after starting off, we’ve taken almost 3 times as long to cover the distance than the time Sprongl did it in. to us this is remarkable, not because we were driving at a tourists pace, but rather because after watching the in car footage Of that run, we realize how fast the fast guys are.
After a brief walkabout at the top of the mountain, we climb back into the allroad for the drive back down the Auto Road. As you head down the mountain you see a huge sign advising drivers to use a low gear, and to stop to give your brakes a chance to cool. Even with the tiptronic in 2nd gear, the allroad wants to run, and use of the brakes is required. Instead of riding the brakes though, we’re able to slow the car by braking, then coasting, then braking. Once again we’re seeing other cars which are suffering from overheated brakes, but the allroad’s excellent brakes shrug off the Auto Road’s unrelenting descent.
All in all, we were pleased but not exactly surprised with how well the allroad handled the Mount Washington Auto Road. It was a fun experience, and the allroad is a hugely capable car.
As we were researching for this piece, we also discovered that Subaru of America is once again sponsoring the CTTC, which will be held in 2014. Yes, we know, not Audi related, but this is an awesome event. And we hope that we have some Audi activity, which was hoped for, but didn’t materialize last time the event was held in 2011. Start making plans today!