If you’re not at the Goodwood Festival of Speed this Sunday, you’re going to miss what is likely to be the most spectacular piece of driving at the South Coast’s famously car-crazy estate in 15 years.
Sébastien Loeb, the world’s most successful and most versatile driver, will make an attempt on the hillclimb course record in the specially built, 875bhp, 875kg Peugeot 208 T16 he used a year ago to smash the hill record at the 12.4-mile Pikes Peak course, near Colorado Springs in the US.
On that occasion - which I witnessed from a perfect vantage of a couple of miles short of the finish - Loeb chopped a cool 90 seconds off the previous best. He also remarked, soon after finishing, that the car was so quick, and the sheer drops beside the narrow course were so scary, that he probably wouldn’t be doing it again.
This weekend the nine-time WRC champ has somewhat less scope for carving great chunks out of the record. Nick Heidfeld's 1999 record Goodwood run occupied a fleeting 41.6 seconds, and his McLaren MP4-13 averaged 100.385mph - on a single-lane road intended for farm vehicles, flanked in several places by avenues of trees (scenic at 15mph; threatening at 150mph), which at one point jinks right-left-right past a flint-walled farmyard that is home to some of England’s best-kept chickens.
Then again, Loeb has the perfect weapon for the job. The power-to-weight ratio of his 208 T16 is equal to that of an F1 car. So is its downforce, and with its WRC-inspired four-wheel drive system, it has even better off-the-line traction. It’ll run 0-60mph in 1.7 seconds (enough to give the driver momentary tunnel vision) and reach 150mph in just seven seconds, as long as it takes for a couple of deep breaths.
For the corners it has the fat tyres and wide track of a Le Mans racer. It also offers the raised eye-line (helpful in a 40-second sprint) of a rally car. In short, it’d be hard to design a better car than this for the Goodwood job, or find a better driver. Even as he “demonstrated” the car at Goodwood last year, Peugeot test driver Gregory Guilvert got to within four seconds of Heidfeld’s record.
All of which is why lovers of spectacular driving exploits will be at Goodwood on Sunday to watch Loeb demonstrate his magic. The episode won’t last long, but it’ll surely be spectacular. And if history is anything to go by, it’ll last a generation.