To truly understand how big an undertaking this year’s Pikes Peak effort is from BBi Autosport, you have to go back a few years. BBi and team boss Betim Berisha first got hooked on the hill when the SoCal Porsche speed shop helped develop a wild turbocharged 997 GT3 Cup car for PPIHC legend Jeff Zwart back in 2014 and 2015. Fast forward a handful of years to 2019 and BBi was on the mountain with its own race car entry, an ex-IMSA 991 GT3 America with a pair of turbochargers and around 800 hors, and a proper French hill climb specialist in Raph Astier. That year the car won its class and set a new record for Time Attack entries.
2020 was a little interesting, as BBi hadn’t planned to enter anything at all due to, well, everything that happened in 2020. Then David Donohue called and said he had a brand new 911 GT2 RS Clubsport he wanted to run. Could BBi prep it? Absolutely they could. If you recall, 2020 was the year of Porsches, and it was a three-way battle between Donohue, David Donner, and Jeff Zwart for top honors. Donohue had the fastest car all week and was on track for an overall victory, but he was on pole and first off the line on a blistering run when a rock cut a tire and suddenly his race was over before he made it to Glen Cove.
Last Friday, while visiting Los Angeles, I took a few hours and headed over to BBi to check out the cars as they were in the process of being prepped for this year’s race. For the first time BBi was bringing not one, not two, but three cars to the hill. With Raph Astier back in his old GT America Turbo and Donohue back in the GT2 RS Clubsport seeking redemption, there’s a knock-down drag-out fight for the top spot.
Tanner Foust, meanwhile, will be running a GT4 Clubsport in the spec class, looking to mop up the field and take the class record away from Travis Pastrana. The GT4 was already in Colorado Springs, but I did get an opportunity to walk around the two turbocharged terrors. While they may look practically identical on the outside, BBi has done a ton of work to both cars to make them speedy hillclimb machines this year.
Raph Astier’s Open Class 2015 GT America Turbo
Back in 2019 this car was thrash-built in under a month for the race. The car was driven up and down the street and straight onto a trailer, and it made it to Colorado just in time for tech inspection. The team literally could not have cut it any closer than they did. And it’s a good thing the effort was made, because Astier drove the car to second overall and a new record in Time Attack 1 with a time of 9:23.721. I remember watching his post-race interview at the summit shortly after the race weekend (below), and despite him not speaking very much English at all, it was easy to see he had issues with the car. As I found out last week, apparently the car sucked a piece of intake hose into the right side turbocharger and Raph lost quite a lot of boost in the latter half of the run. You can watch his run here and see if you can tell when it started to lose power.
So even with a significant lack of boost, the car was clearly quite fast. His Time Attack 1 run was faster than everyone running in Pikes Peak Open that year. That’s a good thing, because his car was bumped up into the Open class for 2021. Apparently the rules were changed between 2019 and now to make the addition of turbochargers to cars that didn’t come turbocharged from the factory a no-no for Time Attack classes. Because his 2015 GT America was originally shipped with a naturally-aspirated 4-liter Mezger engine making around 470 horsepower, and it now carries a heavily built twin-turbo 3.8-liter Mezger making around 800 horsepower, it’s an Open car. Sometimes them’s the brakes.
As you can see, the 2019 spec car was still its stock narrow-body 991 bodywork. It had significant aero added on, and a lot more power than stock, but it was effectively still a GT3 Cup with turbo power. For 2021 the car has been widened significantly. Out back the crew have grafted on 991 Turbo rear quarter panels to give the car a lot more rear track width and room to fit a lot wider rear tire to get the power to the ground. Up front the car has new widebody fenders built with a special new technology. Apparently a company called Airtech has started building 3D-printed molds, which saves potentially months in the process of bringing precisely molded complex carbon fiber parts to life.
Inside those fat rear quarters sits a new 3D-printed airbox to help fix the issues with the 2019 run. The Garrett turbochargers have been upgraded to produce more flow at higher altitude. The last two years have basically been spent cleaning up the small issues that arose from a short build in 2019, and making the car an absolute aerodynamic weapon with a whole lot more tire. Up front, the GT3 Cup bumper has been swapped out for a GT2 RS bumper with a massive central radiator in the front trunk and a GT3 R hood with massive extraction vents. Not only does this help with cooling, but it’s better for downforce as well.
Under the body, Porsche’s factory coilovers have been ditched for a set of advanced JRZs, which can be GPS controlled to adjust damping for each corner of the mountain individually. This is still new technology, so we’ll have to see just how well it is implemented next weekend when the race goes down.
Then, of course, there’s the massive front splitter, the massive rear diffuser, and the gigantic swan-neck wing slung off the back of the car.
David Donohue’s Time Attack 1 Class 911 GT2 RS Clubsport
Because both cars are based on 991 chassis, Donohue’s car is functionally identical in preparation to Astier’s ride. Both cars get the same brake package, the same damper package, the same aero package, and the same bodywork. The main difference is that the GT2 Clubsport came from the factory with widebody rear fenders and a 690-horsepower turbocharged direct-injected MD-architecture flat six. So while the chassis is newer than the GT America, and it carries a totally different engine out back — and a factory-equipped PDK versus the GT America’s sequential — the two cars are pretty damn close to the same.
BBi have been developing hop-up parts for turbocharged 911s for quite a few years, and the GT2 RS is no exception. This race car shares its engine with the street GT2 RS, so it was a no-brainer to add a few of the company’s trick bits. On went a 3D-printed aluminum intake plenum optimized for high-pressure airflow, and a set of 3D-printed titanium exhaust tips with a trick crossover pipe between the two sections of exhaust. It’s a cool look, but apparently it’s good for quite a bit of power, too. According to BBi, a few minor tweaks to the GT2 RS Clubsport, plus these hard parts, and it’s now pushing something like 800 horses to the rear wheels. Ostensibly the company could make more power from the engine, but there is a point where power overcomes traction and in race car terms the returns diminish.
With wider front fenders, wider front tires, a bit more power, and significantly more downforce, it looks like Donohue has a monster of a car on his hands. If his car was threatening to run the fastest overall time in 2020, there’s no telling what he’ll be capable of in 2021. There are certainly a few cars on the grid this year which might threaten to beat Donohue and Astier, but not many. It’s entirely possible that these two will have the fastest cars to ever run up the mountain based on anything even remotely recognizable as a street car. In 2019 Peter Cunningham set the Open class record with a 9:24 in a mega-powerful Acura factory race car. These cars could potentially smoke that record if everything goes right.
Then again, BBi can never count out Rhys Millen in a factory-prepped Bentley Continental GT3, or overall Pikes Peak record holder Romain Dumas, who will be piloting another GT2 RS Clubsport entered by Le Mans victors Champion Racing. Who will you be rooting for this year?
As part of the team’s efforts this year, BBi will be supporting the Little Warriors Foundation and Drive Toward a Cure. For each donation over $25, you will be entered to win a lunch with famed racing driver (and Talbot Yellow 912E enthusiast) Tanner Foust at the 917 Restaurant located inside the Porsche Experience Center in Los Angeles. All money will be sent directly to the University of Colorado Movement Disorders Center to aid in the research effort to end Parkinsons disease.