After months of anticipation, Sébastien Loeb has shattered the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb record with a breath-taking time of 8m13.878s in the 208 T16 Pikes Peak.
The Frenchman negotiated the 20 kilometres and 156 corners of the mountain at an average speed of 145kph.
Loeb’s time blitzed the previous best of 9m46.164s, 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, 4300 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.”
“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 July 1, 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.
“I think it’s fair to say that we were racing for second place today, ” said Millen. “Myself and Romain Dumas 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 & 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 car are part of American history.
Q&A Sébastien Loeb
Sébastien Loeb has broken every record there is to break in the World Rally Championship but he’s not quite done with firsts yet. We caught up with the man who has not just blitzed the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb: instead comprehensively pulverized it with a blue and white sledgehammer built by Peugeot Sport…
Sébastien, what did it feel like to drive the 208 T16 Pikes Peak?
SL: “It’s definitely a very special feeling and a big moment. You have the downforce of a Le Mans car, with acceleration that is faster than a Formula One car, going through scenery that is a bit like rallying. It just comes out of corners like a cannonball; the traction is astounding. With steep drops either side, and so much work and investment going into this programme, you obviously can’t make any mistakes… It’s 20 kilometres of taking risks. There was a certain amount of pressure that I felt before the start, that’s true.”
How do you find the right balance between being quick enough to win but safe enough not go off?
How does this win rank among all your other achievements?
SL: “Well, I’m not going to say it’s like winning a rally title but it still means a lot. I always looked at Pikes Peak in the past and thought that it would be nice to do it one day, and now here I am. For me, with what I’m doing this season, it’s the race of the year. Of all the cars I’ve driven this year, the 208 T16 Pikes Peak is definitely the most fun. This one is a good record, which I think will be quite hard to beat.”
How much of a worry was the weather today?
SL: “It was certainly a big worry as there were lots of delays to our start time; every time something else. We had some information from our weather forecasters that there would be rain after midday and then when we were waiting to start it seemed to be getting closer and closer to midday. I thought that if we didn’t get on with it soon, we’d be in trouble… From the start line I could actually begin to see the weather start to close in around the mountain.”
How long did it take you to get used to the 208 T16 Pikes Peak?
SL: “Before starting on this programme I did ask myself whether or not this car would be too extreme for me to find the same sort of feeling and confidence as I have in my rally car. After all it’s 875 horsepower and the most radical car I have ever driven. In the end though I had a very comfortable feeling with the car and I was able to push with full confidence.”
So will you be back next year?
SL: “To be honest that’s not something we’ve spoken about. I’ve really enjoyed this but we’ll see what happens and who tries to break the record. The feeling is amazing, but the risks are also high.”