HIS participation in the legendary Pikes Peak challenge was long anticipated. But surely few people would have predicted the result of Sebastian Loeb’s first foray at the US venue.
The French driver shattered the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb record high up in the Rocky Mountains.
He powered up the hill in his Peugeot 208 T16 Pikes Peak special in a time of eight minutes 13.878 seconds, tearing along the 12.42 miles and 156 corners at an average speed of 87.471mph.
Loeb’s time blitzed the previous best of nine minutes 46.164 seconds, set by Rhys Millen last year, with the top three finishers all beating the 2012 record. “For me, this was the race of the year,” said Loeb at the finish, at 4,300 metres high in the Rocky Mountains. “At the beginning of my run there was a bit of pressure for sure because I knew there was so much work and investment from Peugeot and all the partners. Now, after all the practice, it was just down to me and I had to perform.”
Loeb started first of the Unlimited class cars, unleashing his 875-horsepower car onto the mountain this morning after all the motorcycle competitors had passed through. However there were a number of delays before he started, which meant that the team began to worry about bad weather: a common feature of Pikes Peak at high altitude. “When I was on the start line waiting to go, I could actually see the clouds closing in at the top of the mountain,” said Loeb. “I remember thinking that if we didn’t get going soon, it would be really difficult.”
As it was, Loeb blasted his 208 T16 Pikes Peak through the clouds in a time that was even quicker than Peugeot Sport’s computer had thought was possible. The ideal theoretical time – calculated using data from Loeb’s practice runs up the Colorado mountain – was 8m15s. The nine-times World Rally Champion somehow managed to shave two seconds off that.
“I’m really happy as that was a very good run in the end,” said Loeb. “I really didn’t expect anything better than 8m15s, so to do 8m13s was fantastic. Before the start I didn’t really know if I should push absolutely to the maximum or if I should just push to a comfortable pace, in order to make sure of the victory. In the end, I decided to push to the limit.”
The result was spectacular, with Loeb now joining the pantheon of Pikes Peak winners; nearly one year to the day after he first conquered America by winning the rally cross finale of the X-Games on 1st July, 2012. Despite his flat-out approach, the multiple champion didn’t even report any major moments, while his Peugeot has been completely reliable throughout the entire month it has been in America.
“It was good, all under control from start to finish,” he concluded. “Apart from the potential of the weather turning bad, we didn’t have any worrying moments.” The scenes of success at Peugeot were reminiscent of 1988, when former World Rally Champion Ari Vatanen broke the Pikes Peak record for the French manufacturer exactly 25 years ago, with the 405 T16 Pikes Peak. Back then the benchmark was 10m47.220s on gravel roads – a sign of just how rapidly technology has evolved.
In second place on the 91st ‘Race to the Sky’ this year was former record-holder Rhys Millen in his all-new Hyundai RMR PM580-T, 49 seconds behind Loeb with a time of 9m02.192s. Nonetheless, the New Zealander beat his own record – and he says that he’s determined to break the nine-minute barrier next year.
“I think it’s fair to say that we were racing for second place today,” said Millen. “Romain Dumas and I had been really close throughout practice, but then I heard that his engine had unfortunately broken at the start. I knew I wasn’t going to beat Sebastien’s time, so I just decided to take no risks. You have to hand it to Loeb and Peugeot Sport: they were unbeatable. That time they set was simply incredible. When will it be beaten? It might never be…”
For Loeb and Peugeot Sport, it was the end to a remarkable one-shot adventure that had taken them from early tests of the 208 T16 Pikes Peak at Mont Ventoux in France to the untrammelled mountains of Colorado: officially America’s highest state. Pikes Peak is a legend: the second-oldest car race in America after the Indy 500. And now Loeb – the new King of the Peak – and the Peugeot 208 T16 Pikes Peak car are part of American history.