Electric vehicles are a familiar sight on the 12.42 mile course during The Broadmoor Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, brought to you by Gran Turismo. Since the first EV challenged the mountain in 1981 with Joe Ball driving the Sears XDH-1, a modified 1977 Fiat 128 3P “Berlinetta” converted by Globe Union to promote the Sears DieHard 12V EV Battery, technology has evolved and finish times have plummeted. Ball’s run in 1981 was clocked at 32:07.42. Compared to today’s overall course record set in 2018 by Romain Dumas in the all-electric Volkswagen I.D. R, a blazing 07:57.148, the numbers speak for themselves.

A handful of electric-powered trucks have raced through the 156 turns on America’s Mountain, but none, until 2023, were production vehicles available to the public. Gardner Nichols set out to prove that his entry, a production model 2018 Rivian R1T electric pickup truck was capable of not only reaching the summit but doing so with an impressive time.

First Pikes Peak Memory

“Racing in the PPIHC has been a lifelong dream of mine. In 2009, I was 15 years old and spectating at the race with my dad. After an early morning practice session, I met Paul Dallenbach. That meeting would ultimately launch my career in the auto industry and give me a taste of racing on Pikes Peak. In 2010, I was a 16-year-old apprentice crew member working on Dallenbach’s team and would introduce myself to everyone I met as ‘an aspiring driver’,” recalled Nichols. “I became good friends with Matt Trainham, the lead engineer for that team, and we kept in touch over the years. Then, three years ago he hired me at Rivian as an engineer and test driver. It was definitely a full-circle moment!”

Paul Dallenbach’s 2010 Unlimited division entry featuring crew list, including Gardner Nichols.

PPIHC Proven

Since Nichols was pursuing a production vehicle record, entered in the Exhibition division in the 101st Running of the Race to the Clouds, the truck was essentially stock aside from his upgraded DOT Pirelli tires and different brake pads. His R1T put down 835hp via a quad motor system (one electric motor per wheel) controlled by hydraulic cross-linked adaptive dampers.


“I was really eager to showcase the broad capabilities of the Rivian. This exact truck has driven across the country multiple times, has taken me off-roading, camping, skiing, mountain biking and more,” explained Nichols. “It’s not a new truck, which makes it that much more amazing to do what it did on Pikes Peak!”

The livery design was a creative outlet for Nichols. He shared, “I chose to keep it simple with large color blocking that reflected Rivian’s color palette as well as representing my work history on previous race teams.”

Taming a Beast


Sharing his perspective on his race day run, Nichols recalled, “As I entered ‘the Ws’, the steep switchback section in the middle of the course, I glanced at my HV battery temperature and saw a much higher number than I was expecting. Like all production electric vehicles, the Rivian has a max battery temperature where motor torque output drops to zero in order to save the hardware. My margin to that max temperature was smaller than I was anticipating so early in the run. I knew if I kept my current pace, the battery would get too hot and the truck would shut down, so I knew I had to change my driving style to suit the situation. For the rest of the run, I had to be extremely thoughtful about when to go full throttle. This took every ounce of self-control because I know the pace is there, but it was a hot, sunny day and we were climbing a mile in elevation with a 7,000lb race vehicle at a blistering pace which required a lot of energy. I kept a close eye on the HV battery temps and tried to push it on the higher speed sections of the course. It turns out that my monitoring the temp gauges paid off. I crossed the finish line with a 0.2 degree margin to the maximum HV battery temperature. I really wasn’t expecting that close a margin!”

Rivian Record

On June 25, 2023, Nichols’ dream came true, not only to compete in the Race to the Clouds, but to set a record during his rookie attempt on the legendary course. When asked who helped him get to Pikes Peak this year, Nichols exclaimed, “My wife! She has been endlessly supportive of my passion. Anyone who has run Pikes Peak can attest to the amount of time and attention it takes to prepare. Also, the Pirelli team and a few of my mentors were the catalysts in making this effort a reality. Without the help of some auto industry friends, this effort wouldn’t have gotten off the ground.”

Record – Electric Production Truck/Van, 2023 – Rivian R1T – 11:23.983


Three Things For Fans To Know:

“I love good food, cooking and great coffee. Cooking and food were really important ingredients in my upbringing! I love making my own pasta.”

“I’ve always been passionate about photography. It started when my cousin showed me how to light-paint when I was about 12 years old. I travel a lot for work so I try to capture my adventures between my phone and my mirrorless camera.”

“I learned to ski when I was about 2 years old. Now, I’m learning to surf since I recently moved to SoCal!”

Pikes Peak heroes? “Paul Dallenbach has been a great lifelong mentor of mine, and more recently, David Donohue as well. I still think Romain Dumas’ achievements at Pikes Peak are epic. Finally, Jeff Zwart’s storytelling ability for all things Pikes Peak has always been inspirational.”

Favorite section: “I really like the section from the Start Line to Brown Bush. It’s fast, flowing and I get into a fun rhythm.”

Most challenging section: “The top section, particularly from Bottomless Pit to Boulder Park. It’s bumpy (even in a pickup truck!), high speed and has very few reference points for a driver.”

Significance of your race number: “December 21st happens to be my birthday, so 21!”

Biggest accomplishment in racing: “I’d say my range of experience is an accomplishment. I started in go karts around age 12, competed in autocross and time attack competitions, got back into shifter karts, and then club racing in college. Since then I’ve started running in some endurance racing events.”


“My professional career has focused on vehicle dynamics and test driving. I’ve logged thousands of hours in a wide range of cars driving on various proving grounds all over the world.”

Share a special race day memory: “When all the drivers and crew sang The Star-Spangled Banner together during the drivers meeting, it definitely added to the great memories of my first Pikes Peak campaign!”

Any news since setting the PPIHC record? “I got to spend some time driving in sand dunes, off roading and recently got back from a winter test trip in Alaska. I’ve also been busy putting some campaigns together for various events next year which I’m really excited to share soon!”

Gardner Nichols Talks Temps, Tires and Truck Weight

Watch Gardner Nichols 2023 Post-Race Interview
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Photos by: Larry Chen, Luis Garcia, Jason Zindroski, Charles Zhao, Rob Miskowitch
First staged in 1916, the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is the second oldest race in America. The invitation-only event, often referred to as The Race to the Clouds is held annually on the last Sunday of June on Pikes Peak – America’s Mountain, near Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA. The famous 12.42-mile (20 km) course consists of 156 turns, boasts an elevation gain of 4,725 feet (1,440 m), and reaches a finish line at 14,115 feet (4,302 m) above sea level. The PPIHC’s six race divisions feature a wide variety of vehicles – from production-based Time Attack challengers to purpose-built Open Wheel racers and state-of-the-art Unlimited vehicles. The current race record was set in 2018 by Romain Dumas and Volkswagen in the all-electric I.D. R Pikes Peak – 07:57.148.