There’s a famous bit in ‘Climb Dance’ – the iconic film that Peugeot commissioned of Ari Vatanen winning the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in 1988 – where the Finnish hero comes round a corner and he’s suddenly blinded by the sun. There’s no way that he can see where he’s going.
Undeterred, Vatanen takes one hand off the wheel to shade his eyes while keeping his right foot firmly planted on the throttle. What makes the moment special is the fact that he’s sliding his Peugeot 405 T16 on the edge of a cliff at the time, back when the Pikes Peak course still contained gravel.
Sebastien Loeb had a Vatanen moment too on the final day of testing for Pikes Peak, clearly embracing the epic tradition of the Colorado event – even though the road is now all-asphalt.
“I came round a corner and the sun was completely in my eyes: I couldn’t see a thing,” he said. If you consider that his Peugeot 208 T16 Pikes Peak has a maximum speed of 250kph and accelerates faster than a Formula One car, that’s not a desirable state of affairs.
“We’ve got a plastic windscreen and every time you wash it, it gets slightly scratched,” explained Seb. “This means that when you have the sun shine directly on it, you really can’t see a thing. But when the sun is right in your eyes like that, there’s no chance anyway. You just have to try and remember which way the road goes. If you wear sunglasses or a tinted visor, it can actually make it worse. So you just get on with it…”
Before the actual ‘Race to the Clouds’ on June 30th, Peugeot will fit a brand new windscreen to reduce glare. Qualifying next week will also determine what time of day the Frenchman starts the race: he’ll be avoiding a start time that is too early in order not to have the sun hanging low in the sky.
In the meantime, Loeb is heading home for five day or so while the team strips down the car and rebuilds it after three days of testing. It’s been mission accomplished, with Peugeot having worked solidly through the planned test programme, which took in suspension settings, tyre assessment and damper adjustments. Most importantly of all, the 208 T16 Pikes Peak was completely reliable throughout all three days.
“We’ve done two test sessions now and my feeling is that the car is ready,” said Loeb. “But one big question mark is the fact that many of our serious rivals have skipped the two test sessions held so far.
"So while I’m confident that we’ve done as much as we need to do, you never know what everybody else has up their sleeve.”
Next week, we finally get to find out…