It is perhaps not the most unexpected news of the week, but Sebastian Loeb has become the fastest man ever to ascend the 20km Pikes Peak hillclimb course in Colorado, USA.
Loeb, and the Peugeot Sport team which provided his car, had been building up to this event since last year, when it was announced that the French car maker would return to the scene of one of its eighties glories.
Back then, it was the great Ari Vatanen and the 405 T16 setting a 10min 47sec record-breaking run up the famous 156-corner hillclimb, which at the time was part-paved and past-gravel.
Now racing on an all-tarmac route, Loeb and his 875bhp specially-designed Peugeot 208 T16 car set a time of 8min 13sec, not only more than two full minutes faster than Vatanen’s time of two decades ago, but more than a minute and a half faster than last-year’s record set by Rhys Millen in a Hyundai.
“I’m really happy, as that was a very good run in the end,” said Loeb. “I really didn’t expect anything better than 8m 15s, so to do 8m 13s was fantastic. Before the start, I didn’t really know if I should push absolutely to the maximum or if I should just push to a comfortable pace, in order to make sure of the victory. In the end, I decided to push to the limit.
“It was good, all under control from start to finish. Apart from the potential of the weather turning bad, we didn’t have any worrying moments.”
Last year’s Pikes Peak champion, Rhys Millen, set a very respectable 9-minute time in his heavily modified Hyundai, but even that wasn’t enough to unseat the flying Frenchman. “I think we were always going to be racing for second place today,” said the American driver when congratulating his rival.
It’s a major boost for Peugeot’s image at a time when the French car maker needs to drive its sales up, and it will give a useful halo of motorsports success to the just-launched new Puegeot 208 GTI hot hatch.