Although he won’t be sitting alongside Sebastien Loeb during the ascent of Pikes Peak on June 30, Daniel Elena didn’t hesitate to step in to help his long-standing chauffeur to learn the subtleties of the celebrated American hill climb course.
You have to agree that the sight of Sebastien Loeb reciting pace notes to Daniel Elena, the co-driver with whom he has won all his world rally titles, is somewhat unusual. No, the two men haven’t suddenly decided to reverse their roles; the Frenchman is still the one holding the steering wheel as he calls out “Off-camber Left 130 over Crest”. Sitting to the champion’s right, Daniel corrects the description “Drop the ‘Over Crest'”.
In rallying, the usual procedure is for Sebastien to use the first ‘pass’ during the ‘recce’ of a special stage to dictate his impressions to Daniel using a code and vocabulary the pair has honed during their years of competing together. Daniel scrupulously notes this turn-by-turn summary which he then calls out when they later contest the stage in anger, carefully adjusting the tone of his voice and flow of words like a musical score to help Sebastien optimise his speed through every corner.
Now we are talking about Pikes Peak and, on June 30, when the nine-time world champion climbs the twisty Colorado road for real, he will be all alone as he tackles the 156 turns of the 20-odd kilometre course.
Indeed, there is no provision for a co-driver on-board the 208 T16 Pikes Peak, so the Frenchman has been forced to seek an alternative solution. “Pace notes provide ‘Seb’ with an accurate mental picture of every twist and turn,” explained Daniel after nine complete climbs of the course. “They tell him what his entry speed should be, and when the corner will tighten. He wanted to keep the same system in order to memorise Pikes Peak. On this occasion, he wanted to learn the notes by heart and, for once, it was his job to shout them out to me. My role was to make any corrections that were necessary. He’s done a great job committing the route to memory, especially as he generally has trouble remembering a name or a face.”
Given how Sebastien Loeb hit the ground running during the first practice session, there is no reason to doubt Daniel’s word.