Red Bull Motorsports
For World Rally Championship legend Michele Mouton, her victory at Pikes Peak in 1985 was truly a case of the famous mountain course’s clouds turning to a red mist.
Mouton and Audi had won the event in 1984 with her WRC co-driver Fabrizia Pons sitting alongside. But this second attempt would be Mouton toute seule.
Ahead of reigning nine-time WRC champion and French compatriot Sébastien Loeb’s Pikes Peak debut with Peugeot, Mouton recalls her ’85 victory.
Firstly the car
“It was my WRC car, the short wheelbase Group B Audi S1, but modified. We worked a lot on altitude and electrics. I had 600bhp – only 70bhp more than my WRC car, so no big deal. Sébastien will have a paddleshift but that’s how it’s moved on. My gearshift was manual. It’s what you knew so you just got on with it.”
Then the course
“It was smooth gravel, very wide open. You start at around 1500 metres above sea level in the forest and reach nearly 4500 metres in less than 20km and in 12 minutes so it’s quite, er…‘Fyyuuuppp!’. One time I drove up with all the clouds beneath me and some drivers in open-topped cars had oxygen masks. I didn’t find the altitude a problem, but it’s something Sébastien should bear in mind.
“On gravel, even with 1000bhp the car was sliding and telling you ‘now be careful’. But now it's all asphalt...with slick tyres and 875bhp, then good luck. Better him [Loeb] than me!”
What about the drops?
“This is a challenge. You don’t want to go down…you want to stay on the road! At the top you have four corners which are flat-out except for the second one. But I was so motivated I decided not to lift. I felt the car really pushing me and you think, ‘Shit, I will go there [over the edge]’. I tell you, you are very close to…I had this feeling I was right there, so the feelings were very hot, I would say.”
Don’t mess with Mouton
“The organisers made my life very complicated. It was like it was the first time they saw a rally car or a turbocharged car – even a European or a woman!
“They caught me speeding on the practice starts by 5mph and put me before a small tribunal saying, ‘You are like a criminal, you’ve been speeding, you could have killed my children’.
“They fined me and also I was not allowed to start in the car. I would jump in, do my own belts and then start. They knew my time from the practice and didn’t want me to win, so they find something they believe really can be a big penalty.
I was so determined. I said ‘I will show you even in this situation’
“So we had a think and informed them we would tell the media at breakfast the next morning. I said to them, ‘I can show you that even at 30kph quicker I can brake in time with this car for a child. Also you are not thinking about my own safety when you expect me to do this hill like this. You must be crazy!’.
They realised, ‘Oh, oh, safety issue’, so finally I was allowed to start in the car with belts on but the mechanic has to push me to the line and I can’t select a gear until the clock starts. Now I was so determined. I said ‘I will show you even in this situation’."
Those four corners at the top? All were taken flat-out. Cue a new course record, another victory and some very annoyed Americans.