In a display of driving supremacy that will surely have implications for the way America's second oldest motorsport event is run in future, nine times WRC champion Sébastien Loeb yesterday slashed a staggering 92 seconds - or nearly six per cent - off the time for cars in the Unlimited class at the Pikes Peak Hill Climb, near Colorado Springs.
Driving a specially built four-wheel-drive Peugeot 208 T16 on the 25th anniversary of Ari Vartanen's fondly remembered victory there in a 405 T16, Loeb recorded a time of 8min 13.878sec for the 12.4-mile course which rises 5000 feet, has 156 corners and at times has sheer drops of 2000ft beside the road. Hillclimbs have been held in the course since 1916.
Loeb, who was seconded from Citroën for this one event, was driving a car specially built for the event in four months, using proven components from Peugeot's 908 Le Mans cars. It has a steel spaceframe chassis, a mid-mounted 3.2-litre twin-turbocharged petrol V6, a six-speed four-wheel-drive transaxle, torsion-bar double wishbone suspension front and rear and carbonfibre racing brakes. The extraordinary power-to-weight and traction give the car 0-62mph acceleration of 1.8 seconds, and a 0-150mph time of 7.0 sec.
Commenting on Loeb's performance, the managing director of Peugeot Sport, Bruno Famine, described Loeb as "an exceptional driver; one of the few in the world who could extract full performance out of this car". He said though Pikes Peak experts had predicted a time below nine minutes, Peugeot's own calculations had shown "the ideal time" was the one Loeb recorded.
Peugeot says it will look for future one-off activities for the 208 T16, though it has nothing planned as yet. Global head of marketing Guillaume Couzy says the company would like to display the car at this year's Goodwood Festival of Speed, but final arrangements are yet to be made.