Two friends raised in Colorado Springs. Two Porsches, built 50 years apart. Two divisions in the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.
Racers Chris Strauch and George Hess III, also known as G3, go back decades – in fact, Hess was close friends with Strauch’s dad when Chris was a youngster. These days, Strauch and Hess cross paths often in their professional lives – Hess as founder of Vantage Homes and Strauch as Vice President of Peak View Roofing.
“I’ve known George my whole life,” Strauch said. “George is awesome.”
But when it comes to racing… may the best man win!
Porsche + PPIHC
The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb features nearly every make of car in 2021. But Porsches are king. In a field of 67 cars, 13 from around the globe will carry the iconic prancing horse logo.
First, 2018 was the first year the Hill Climb offered a one-make class – the Porsche Pikes Peak Trophy by Yokohama division. Nearly a third of the Porsche entries are in this group… the rest are scattered throughout various other divisions. All-time PPIHC record holder Romain Dumas of France, for instance, will defend his title in a 2019 Porsche 911 GT2RS Clubsport. He'll be in the Time Attack 1 division.
Second, Porsche's are flexible in terms of setup. “There’s a lot of after-market race parts that can go on production cars,” said Fred Veitch, PPIHC chairman of the board and past competitor. “And Porsche has a very active racing program and those race parts can be adapted to various cars to make them competitive.”
And third, “Porsches are very dependable cars,” said Veitch, who retired last year. “They take a lot of abuse and still run. The hill is very tough on equipment...The car is really stressed. Porsches historically are very, very reliable, strong cars that typically finish their races.”
In fact, last year, every single Porsche finished its race up Pikes Peak.
Hess’ 2020 Club Car
Hess, 66, will be sporting a 2020 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport in his fifth race up Pikes Peak.
He bought his first Porsche when he was in his 30s and has been enamored ever since.
“You kind of… get fascinated with the brand and the history of Dr. Porsche and Volkswagen and how it all ties together,” Hess said. “The uniqueness, in the old days, of a rear-engine car.”
“I guess it’s a cult,” he said with a chuckle. “It’s just a fascinating car. First of all, they’re fun to drive. I’m a fan of the older, air-cooled cars, up through 1998. They’re very simple and very simplistic in the technology behind them.”
But that technology is powerful. And, he added, Porsches are f-a-s-t.
“I absolutely am in love with this car,” he said of his 2020 Cayman. “I love the way it handles. I love the balance of the car.”
He bought the Cayman specifically so he could race in the Porsche Pikes Peak Trophy by Yokohama Division.
“We’re all on equal footing,” he said. “Though we get to race against professionals, the rest of us will be amateurs and we get to see how we do against the pros. This is absolutely one of the few places you get to do that.”
His advantage? New car. Latest technology. Mid-body engine that allows for quick cornering. Disadvantage?
“My car is not turbo charged,” he said. “It’s breathing hard in the upper altitude. It just doesn’t have the horsepower. And that’s where the turbos have us beat.”
In an email, Hess said, “I am glad I’m not it the same race class as Chris; he is much faster than I am.”
Strauch’s 1970 “Porschevy”
Strauch, 52, said Hess’ car is faster than he’s letting on.
“I don’t know what kind of horsepower he’s putting out, but I’ll bet his car handles a little bit better than us because of how new it is,” Strauch said. “He’s probably not telling you the truth there. George is superfast. I’m going to race him on the side. He and I are going to race to see … who can get the better time.”
Strauch will enter the Pikes Peak Open Division in a 1970 Porsche 914 wide body that he’s rebuilt from the inside out. It all started in 2013, when Strauch crashed an open wheeler he was planning to race in PPIHC and broke his back. That car needed a lot of work after the accident, so he took it to his favorite garage guy – a local car builder. When he pulled up, a street-legal 914 Porsche was sitting in the driveway.
“What do you want for that?” Strauch asked his friend. He suggested teaming up and dropping the powerplant from the open wheeler into the Porsche to build a car specifically for running the Hill Climb.
“I drove it home that day,” said Strauch, who has attended or raced in the PPIHC since he was four years old – 48 years straight. “We drove it around to the store and everything for about two days, then it’s never been on the street since. It’s a full-blown racecar.”
This will be Strauch’s 15th Hill Climb. He has about $100,000 into the car, including a Chevrolet 427 LS7 twin turbo tuned to about 900 horsepower.
“We call it a Porschevy because it’s a Porsche and a Chevy mixed,” he said, laughing. “I probably would have been better off if I would have bought something more like what George has – a Club Car. This was just something we wanted to do. We did 100 percent of the work. It’s not a factory car from a factory team. It’s a garage-built car.”
His biggest weapon? Turbo. When a car is naturally aspirated, it loses power as it climbs in altitude due to less oxygen. Turbo allows him to adjust the boost to have the same amount of horsepower at the finish line that he has at the start line.
He’s hoping for a win. Or at least to get this car on the podium (he took 4th last year.) Or to break 10 minutes. But on Pikes Peak, he said, just making it to the finish line is a “true victory.”
“I live and breathe by you don’t get anything unless the mountain wants it,” Strauch said. “If the mountain’s going to let you have it, then you can get it. It doesn’t matter what you come here with. It doesn’t matter how much horsepower or how good of a driver you are, if the mountain isn’t going to let you, it’s just not going to let you.”
For several years, Hess has allowed the Housing & Building Association of Colorado Springs to sell decal spots on his racecar to raise money for it's charitable arm, HBA Cares. This year, just under $25,000 will go toward a new guest house for St. Francis Medical Center patients receiving cancer treatment and NICU patients' families.