It’s a bit surreal to see a traffic jam before 4am – particularly if it’s on a country road in the middle of nowhere. But on the first official test day of the weekend, there was a queue of nearly a mile stretching towards the entrance to the Pikes Peak Highway: the breath-taking location for the famous ‘Race to the Clouds’.
One of the star attractions is Sebastien Loeb and his Peugeot 208 T16 Pikes Peak: a car built with the uncompromising aim of breaking the record for the legendary American hillclimb, which reaches 4,301 metres in Colorado.
At the first official test day, the drivers were using the bottom part of the hill to practise, which according to Seb Loeb is the most physically demanding bit due to the high speeds and fast corners. Not only is it a big challenge for the driver but also for the tyres: it’s important to look after them properly at the bottom of the hill so they’re still feeling nice and fresh for the top – which is where the teams will test on Sunday.
For now though, the objective was to check that the Peugeot 208 T16 Pikes Peak was running with the right tyre compound. Michelin has designed some special tyres for the unique demands of the Peugeot 208 T16 Pikes Peak, which has a power to weight ratio of one horsepower per kilogram. Now you see why it needs them. When it comes to finding grip, Seb describes the steep drops that flank the side of the course as “motivating”.
In private testing yesterday, the nine-time World Rally Champion identified a tyre compound that he thought would be well suited to the car. Today, it was all about checking that feeling and seeing if a number of small set-up changes worked well with it.
“It was good,” said Seb, as he returned to the team motorhome after just a couple of runs. “That’s the tyre that we’re going to be using for the race I think, unless something dramatic happens with the weather conditions.”
A couple of hours earlier, only minutes before pulling on his helmet and unleashing the monster, Seb was fast asleep in the back of the motorhome.
Then, as the sun rose, he blasted off towards the horizon – powered by espresso and ambition.
Wasn’t he still feeling a bit sleepy? It must have been a brutal wake-up call after all.
“No, not really,” pointed out the Frenchman. “This car is way better than any alarm clock. If you’re feeling a bit sleepy when you step inside it, trust me: you don’t stay sleepy for very long.”
That would be thanks to acceleration that’s similar – if not slightly better – than any Formula One car. Imagine trying to get some sleep while being fired out of a cannon. That would be a similar feeling.
Those two test runs were enough for Seb today, before the specially-built Peugeot headed up the hill at a more sedate pace for some photo opportunities with the backdrop of the Colorado countryside: officially America’s highest state.
It may already be June, but there’s still snow at the top of the mountain. And when Seb first did the recce, it was actually still snowing.
One thing the Peugeot team hasn’t tested so far is a snow tyre. Every other possibility, when it comes to tyres at least, has been well and truly covered…