After months of anticipation, Sebastien Loeb has shattered the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb record with a breath-taking time of 8m13.878s in the Peugeot 208 T16 Pikes Peak. The Frenchman negotiated the 20 kilometres and 156 corners of the mountain at an average speed of 145kph, crowning himself King of the Peak.
The nine-time world rally champion’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 different partners. Now, after all the practice, it was just down to me and I had to perform.”
Loeb blasted his Peugeot 208 T16 Pikes Peak through the clouds in a time that was even quicker than Peugeot’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.
“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 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. “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: they were unbeatable. That time they set was simply incredible. When will it be beaten? It might never be…”
For Loeb, it was the end to a remarkable one-shot adventure that had taken him 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 – is part of American history.