On Sunday Sébastien Loeb shattered the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb record with a breath-taking time of 8m13.878s in the 208 T16 Pikes Peak.
Negotiating the 156 corners of the 20km mountain course at an average speed of 145kph, Loeb 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 line 4,300m high in the Rocky Mountains. “At the beginning of my run there was a bit of pressure 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.”
After a delay due to threatening weather, Loeb was first to run in the Unlimited class cars, unleashing his 875hp car on the race to the clouds. “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.”
In fact Loeb blasted his 208 T16 Pikes Peak through the clouds quicker than even Peugeot Sport’s computer had thought possible. The ideal theoretical time – calculated using data from Loeb’s practice runs – 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 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.
The scene over at Peugeot was 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 Sport: they were unbeatable. That time they set was simply incredible. When will it be beaten? It might never be…”
The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is a legendary event: the second-oldest car race in America after the Indy 500. And now Loeb – the new King of the Peak – and the Peugeot car have written their names into American history.