So you end up standing in a fragrant forest of pine and spruce before dawn when, just as the sun rises, the open-wheelers start warming through their fluids. The rumble of Detroit iron, highly strung, shatters the peace and quiet like a hammer through mirrored glass. The unburnt high-octane fuel doesn’t just hang in the air – it burns your eyes. That’s how close you can get to the competitors as they get ready to go.
The field is split up for practice and qualifying, using different sections of the hill each on different mornings. No driver gets to run the course in its entirety until Sunday – which somehow builds the anticipation.
As it stands, with one more day of practice to go, those at the head of the field – Dumas, Pagenaud, Millen, Dallenbach, Tajima, Masuoka, Tracy et al – are all delivering serious times. The bloke right at the head of them all, however – Loeb – is in a class of one.
After 9am, the Pikes Peak toll road is reopened to the public and you can drive to the summit. Which, of course, I did. Eye-opening isn’t the word. Up until you pass what the locals call the Timberline, the road isn’t too dissimilar to plenty of European passes. But after the trees around you disappear, the road only gets steeper. And the drops – still unguarded by Armco for long stretches. Dear God.
I stood at the summit for about 10 minutes, staring at several different states all at once. And then the act of walking at 14,000 feet started to make me feel dizzy, nauseous; keen to descend. I'm just staggered how those drivers and riders manage to get their breath back after a flat-out dice with the unthinkable up there, where you can hardly breathe for standing still.
Anyway, the build-up is building up very nicely. The organisers held a press conference this afternoon, announcing a new Pikes Peak Museum to be open in time for next year’s running, and parading the driver line-up to the press. No prizes for guessing who got top billing.
As a subsequent part of it, the only five men ever to have broken the 10-minute barrier on the current full course all got a special trophy: Rhys Millen, Monster Tajima, Romain Dumas, Carlin Dunne and Greg Tracy – the latter two having done so on bikes. Loeb watched and applauded generously, but with a knowing smirk on his face.
Because the elephant in the room was that, if he keeps driving as quickly as he has already, Sebastian will bust that little club spectacularly apart on Sunday, by becoming the founding and sole member of the Pikes Peak eight-minute club.
Peugeot has dropped a nuclear bomb into this event in the shape of the quiet nine-time WRC champion. And I can’t wait to see it go off.