In The Drive's interview with Travis Pastrana on Thursday, in advance of the 96th Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, Pastrana revealed that he's heard rumors of a possible Formula 1 entry in the race's future.
"There's talk now of an F1 team coming out here," Pastrana told The Drive. "I've heard, I'm not saying who, or from what, it's not me for sure."
Pastrana confirmed that the rumor does not concern either of the Formula 1 teams operated by his former sponsor, Red Bull, which includes Red Bull Racing and Scuderia Toro Rosso-Honda. His connections within the motorsport world lends credence to the rumor he reports, as does his caginess about his source.
The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is held annually on the eponymous mountain, which was fully paved in 2012 after a lawsuit by an environmental group; It is not the dirt road it once was. Volkswagen rewrote the course record at this year's race, deploying Romain Dumas and its 680 horsepower I.D. R electric prototype to storm the mountain in 7:57.148. The company's Pikes Peak program is in part a marketing move to call attention to the brand, and associate Volkswagen's name with electric vehicles in lieu of the polluting diesel vehicles that kicked off a string of diesel emissions scandals which would involve several international automakers.
Marketing value is key to identifying which Formula 1 teams could potentially gain from a Pikes Peak race entry. With both Red Bull-operated teams counted out, eight remain: Ferrari, Mercedes, McLaren, Renault, Williams, Alfa Romeo Sauber, Force India, and Haas.
Limited value gleaned from a Pikes Peak campaign by sponsors or owners and budgetary challenges immediately paint Williams and Force India as unlikely candidates. Renault has the budget, but does not sell cars in the United States. Ferrari and Mercedes both have the budget, but their marketing itch is for now scratched by their battle for the lead of the 2018 constructors' championship.
Haas might have the budget, and being based in North Carolina, they can almost consider Pikes Peak a local race, given the global scale on which they operate. Team owner Gene Haas' goal with his team is equal parts running a Formula 1 operation in his name and promoting his CNC machinery manufacturer internationally—Pikes Peak is his domestic market, one in which his company already has a solid presence.
McLaren has the budget, is expanding its North American racing enterprise to Indycar, and could use some positive press for once, but the value of a Pikes Peak win to McLaren (which still lacks a title sponsor) is questionable, as the Formula 1 team and road car manufacturer are separate entities under the McLaren Technology Group. The entry in the 2018 race by Flying Lizard with its McLaren 12C GT3 cannot be interpreted as a Formula 1-linked endeavor.
The budget to enter Pikes Peak and the value in doing so is present for Alfa Romeo Sauber. Alfa Romeo reentered the U.S. market in 2014 after a 19-year absence, and may wish to promote itself through motorsport—the company is "thinking about" an Indycar return. Showing up to Pikes Peak with a Formula 1 car would be newsworthy on its own, and would leverage the Alfa Romeo brand in the Americas, regardless of race performance.
Its Formula 1 partner Sauber is not the wealthiest team, but the cost of operating a comparatively low-cost race like Pikes Peak would be chump change compared to a Grand Prix, and Alfa could front the investment to add a race to the team's schedule.
One of the biggest obstacles to a Formula 1 team entering Pikes Peak is the busy Grand Prix calendar in the late spring—this year's race coincided with the French Grand Prix. Any Pikes Peak involvement would demand a free weekend, and with the sport's commercial rights holder wanting more Grands Prix per season, a free June weekend looks unlikely.
The Drive reached each team for comment on interest in entering Pikes Peak. McLaren confirmed no intent to compete at the hill climb, Sauber could not be reached for comment, and Alfa Romeo has already issued a statement regarding entry into Pikes Peak.
"At this time, Alfa Romeo is not exploring involvement in the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb either on our own or in partnership with any race teams," stated a company spokesperson to The Drive. Mercedes issued a similar statement.