Knox Mountain Hill Climb: Speed and thrills, but race in Kelowna is ‘very unforgiving’

The May long weekend is here, and, for more than six decades, an Okanagan mainstay event has been Kelowna’s Knox Mountain Hill Climb.

Over the years, all sorts of vehicles and all sorts of drivers have raced up the windy track. But setting a new record time for this challenging climb remains elusive.

On Friday, the public road up Knox Mountain was shut down for the annual race, which sees racers pilot their way through turns and 800 vertical feet in just 3.5 kilometres.

Ben Thorkelson is a veteran of the hill climb. He regularly took part in the event, but after a run-in with a rock wall in 2011, he retired from racing.

“You’ve gotta be on point,” Thorkelson said taking Global News on a tour up the hill in his Porsche GT3. “This hill is very unforgiving.”

Thorkelson said there are sections where speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour can be reached. There are also three switchbacks, or hairpin curves.

The race up Knox — said to be the longest paved hill climb in the world – is man and machine against the mountain and time.

The current track record is 1:37.065, and hill climbs under two minutes are rare.

One driver to keep an eye on is Wouter Bouman, who says his 1993 Mazda RX7 produces 700 to 900 horsepower.

His fastest time? One minute and 47 seconds.

But the key to Bouman’s success is tight driving, not horsepower.

“It’s very unforgiving; there’s trees, there’s concrete barriers, there’s nothing soft, so you can’t make any mistakes,” he said.

“If you are a car-width off, usually you are doing some damage.”

For more on the annual race, click here.

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