The third stage of the USA Pro Challenge, my fourth day driving a 2014 Lexus IS 350C, took me from Mt. Crested Butte to Monarch, Colo. What a day for a drive.
After a few-mile descent from Mt. Crest Butte (Elevation, 9,898 feet), Hwy. 135 South progressed through long stretches of rolling terrain. A canvas of large rock formations, broken down ranch buildings, and a bright blue ski dotted with pillow-like clouds took me 27 mile to Gunnison, the start of stage 3.
The 96-mile stage, the race’s only mountaintop finish, began at 7,793 feet. From Gunnison, it was 50 miles to Monarch Ski Resort, elevation 10,790 feet.
The 2014 Lexus IS 350C has 306 horsepower, at it was apparent during the final 20-mile climb to the finish on the winding steep roads. Where there were passing lanes, the Lexus scooted around trucks without issue.
On tight turns, the FSport package provided keen turning and maneuvering on switchbacks.
The 2014 Lexus IS 350C is a hardtop convertible, of course, and I stopped along the final climb to put the top down. The electric switch, which retracts the hardtop in 22 seconds, wasn’t working.
But I quickly realized that was a good thing. I had my one carry-on suitcase and my laptop bag in the trunk. The hardtop won’t disengage with luggage in the trunk. I left the luggage alone and figured there would be more time during the race to drive the Lexus as a convertible. Instead, I stopped and took some images of the car, not too many miles from the finish and in clear, crisp mountain air.