Getting to know the fastest woman up Pikes Peak

Laura Hayes shares her story after breaking the record as the fastest female at the world-famous race


Few youngsters growing up in South Carolina will have the Pikes Peak International Hillclimb on their radar.

Those with an interest in motorsport are more likely to idolize NASCAR greats Dale Earnhardt, David Pearson and Cale Yarborough than Pikes Peak winners Ari Vatanen, Michèle Mouton and Romain Dumas.

So it was for Laura Hayes, born and bred in NASCAR country, and now a competitor in America’s World Racing League GT divisions. But, since 2020, Hayes has also been a regular at Colorado’s Race to the Sky, where Mouton took her Audi Sport Quattro S1 to victory in 1985.

And last month, driving a Toyota GR Supra GT4, Hayes became the fastest woman of all time at Pikes Peak. She stopped the clocks at 10 minutes 20.487 seconds, beating the previous best by more than half a minute. That had been set in 2018 by Vanina Ickx, daughter of Dakar winner and motorsport all-rounder Jacky Ickx, at the wheel of a Gillet Vertigo.

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Hayes made history at last month's Pikes Peak event

Without a prior connection, Hayes only really stumbled across Pikes Peak by chance when the world was engulfed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I received a last-minute invitation to be the Parade of Champions pace-car driver,” she says. “I honestly didn’t know too much about the race, so on the plane ride to Colorado, I watched documentaries and all the onboarding videos I could so that I had some knowledge going into the week.

“Even though it was a COVID year and there were no fans, no Fan Fest, I immediately fell in love with the race. Winslow BMW provides the pace car and that year it was an M8 Competition. The hillclimb allowed me to run each section during the week so I was familiar with the road when I had to drive to the summit on race day. I was up there having fun and taking it all in when one of the officials approached my car and was like, ‘You know you’re faster than some of the race cars?’

“With the encouragement of so many people, I called up my team and told them we have to do this. I’m fortunate to have generous and trusting friends at Thunder Bunny Racing, who have allowed me to use their cars the past few years. It’s the most epic side-quest of our race season, always an adventure, full of emotion, and there’s truly nothing more satisfying than conquering the mountain.”

Having a role model is not only inspiring but can be comforting - I hope I can be that hero to a young girl Laura Hayes

Having previously driven a BMW M2 CSR at the event, this year Hayes switched to her regular World Racing League ride. The Supra required only minor modifications for the event and, fresh from winning the previous race at Road America, Hayes at least had familiar equipment at her disposal for her latest tilt at the mountain.

There she would take on – and beat – the likes of Porsche 718 pairing Robb Holland and Nuno Caetano in the GT4 Trophy by Yokohama division.

“We proved the versatility of the GT4 platform, and the new class certainly provided fierce competition among the different manufacturers,” says Hayes.

“I’m fortunate I get to race this platform throughout the year. Having that familiarity really adds to the layers of confidence required while tackling 12.42 miles of twists and turns into the clouds. It stops, it handles, it’s just a real joy to drive.”


The Toyota GR Supra GT4 gives Hayes real pleasure to drive

But prior knowledge of car and course are no guarantees to success at Pikes Peak. Preparation is crucial but, ultimately, the whole event comes down to a single run up the mountain.

“You can never prepare enough for this race,” admits Hayes. “I took a year off because I couldn’t find the funding to return, and during that time, I forgot everything. I might as well have been a rookie again this year!

“I did use a simulator to help relearn the road but even that didn’t apply to reality all that well. I was fortunate to have access to the legendary Jeff Zwart [one-time WRC competitor and Pikes Peak Hall of Fame member]. His wisdom and advice played in my mind all week, and I’m forever grateful for his guidance.

“A unique element and challenge your body deals with is the lack of oxygen. Coming from South Carolina, you can’t prepare for the altitude so running oxygen is key to clarity and making split second decisions at 14,000ft.”

Now Hayes wants to inspire other women and girls to compete in motorsports, acting as the role model that she never had.

“Having a role model is not only inspiring but can be comforting when you’re able to relate to someone who’s facing similar challenges,” she believes. “I didn’t have that growing up so I looked up to Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt.

“I hope myself and the other women can be that hero to a young girl who wants to do what the boys are doing. It’s not without sacrifice, extreme commitment, sprinkle in some failure – it’s going to happen. But if you believe and truly set your mind to it, dreams can come true. And mine did.

“Driving a car fast is the only thing I’m kind of good at! And I’ve been doing it so long, it’s truly all I know. My parents taught me the thrill of competition at an early age, and to this day, I love how competition pushes your limits. Even when you lose, you’re still learning and finding ways to be the best you can be.

“Since I’ve been racing, more women have entered the sport in different capacities and although we are gaining momentum in the industry, there is still work to be done. If I can help pave a path and inspire more girls to enter the sport, that could be the most rewarding part of my career.

“Mobil 1 is a huge ambassador for women in motorsport, and their love of driving aligns with mine. I hope together, we can make a difference for future generations of drivers, engineers, managers, and anyone who wants to be a part of motorsports.”

Words:Mark Paulson