Loeb's Pikes Peak test run up Mont Ventoux
The beastlike 208 T16 Pikes Peak took full advantage of the chance to stretch its legs for the first time outside the confines of Peugeot Sport’s factory or a closely guarded circuit. The mountainside run provided the opportunity for Sebastien Loeb and the team to perform a dress rehearsal before June’s trip to the USA for the 2013 Pikes Peak Hill Climb in Colorado.
Mont Ventoux in the south of France has achieved infamy as the setting for one of the toughest stages of the Tour de France. It has long been one of the event’s truly classic climbs; one which sorts out the men from the boys. “You’ve got a much bigger chance of seeing me drive to the top in a car than on a bike,” admitted reigning World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb before the test.
You only need to drive a couple of kilometres up the road which leads from the test team’s basecamp to the summit to understand why this barren mountain has become such a huge legend among cycling fans. The steep slope and numerous turns do not permit the slightest respite as it strikes out towards the summit.
The rewards for reaching the top of Mont Ventoux are stunning views of France’s Provence region from the barren peak at an altitude of 1,909 metres. In addition to this, the last six kilometres – used by Peugeot Sport for the test – have a lunar landscape quality that’s simply out of this world.
“This is an important run because Pikes Peak is very different from a nice, smooth race track,” noted Sebastien Loeb. “It is vital for us to evaluate the car on a terrain that is more like what we will find in the States. This road will give us a reasonably accurate idea...”
The WRC legend was clearly happy to be back in the 208 T16 Pikes Peak, now painted in the colours it will wear on Pikes Peak. “It’s not the power that impresses me anymore; I’ve got used to it,” Loeb said, “It’s the speed at which the corners leap out at you which is more striking than round a circuit where there’s always a ‘100-metre’ board to show you where to brake. Here, you can be in fifth or sixth gear and you suddenly see mountainside ahead of you; you have to work out for yourself where you need to brake…”
With a power output of 875 horsepower, this car is no ordinary beast. “The steering is still very, very responsive, so it can be a little hairy keeping your foot to the floor though the fast portions,” observed the French driver. “On wide slicks like this and at the sort of speeds I am getting up to, the slightest imperfection in the road surface really unsettles the car.” A switch to softer Michelin tyres and revised calibration for the steering helped to improve the situation.
The next step is the journey to Colorado for more testing on the course that will only become available on a section-by-section basis during the second week of June. After this final preparatory phase, the event will run in earnest from June 24 until June 30, which is when Sebastien Loeb and the 208 T16 Pikes Peak will at last get their chance to reach for the clouds for real.