Just over a year ago the nine-time WRC champion Sébastien Loeb shattered the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb record in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, U.S.A.. We take a look back at how he did it in the event-specific-built Peugeot 208 T16 Pikes Peak…wait he didn’t drive a Citroën?!
Check out the on-board footage of Loeb’s record hill climb below:
Pikes Peak has been running since 1916, when cars were just cardboard boxes strapped to an engine and nowhere near as safe as today’s race cars. The added roll cages and 5 point race harnesses just mean that you can push the car even further though…cue that big grin on your face! Loeb’s Peugeot might look like a racing version of the road car on the outside, but that is where all the similarities end; it has a mid-mounted, twin-turbocharged, 3.2-litre V6 engine, and can accelerate from 0-62mph in 1.8sec and from 0-150mph in 7sec! So Loeb definitely had the right car to take on the climb!
The Pikes Peak race and the surrounding event is often nicknamed the ‘Race to the Clouds’ which is a spot on description; the 12.4 mile (20 km) road climbs 4300 meters (14,100 feet) into the Rocky’s, with an incredible 156 corners winding back and forth to negotiate.
The previous record time, of 9m46.164s, was set in 2012 by Rhys Millen. To beat that Loeb would have to use every inch of road available, pushing to every edge on the way up. In the end, the top three finishers managed to beat the 2012 record but Loeb’s time of 8m13.878s absolutely blitzed it.
“For me, this was the race of the year,” said Loeb at the finish. “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 Peugeot onto the mountain 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.”
Even so, 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-time world rally champion somehow managed to shave two seconds off that, averaging a speed of 90mph (145kph)!
“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.”
In second place on the 91st ‘Race to the Sky’ was former record-holder Rhys Millen in the then-new Hyundai RMR PM580-T, 49 seconds behind Loeb with a time of 9m02.192s.
“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 untrammeled mountains of Colorado: officially America’s highest state. Pikes Peak is a legend: the second-oldest car race in America after the Indy 500. Loeb remains King of the Peak after the 2014 winner Romain Dumas completed the climb in a time of 9m05.801s in a Norma M20 RD. The Peugeot 208 T16 Pikes Peak car may remain unbeatable for some time!