Pikes Peak reaches 4,302-metres into the Colorado sky, about 16km west of the bustling city of Colorado Springs. Even in a state renowned for its loftiness (Denver is known as the Mile High City and is literally a mile above sea level), Pikes is a pretty imposing lump of rock. It is also one of the longest-serving motorsport venues in the world, with the first event there taking place in 1916.
Since then, the Pike has been assaulted and occasionally tamed by European car makers and racers. Audi has been there and back a few times, originally sending Michelle Mouton in a rally-spec Quattro and more recently setting a record for autonomous cars when a driverless TT, controlled entirely by computers, tackled the daunting 12.4-mile course in 27 minutes. A lot slower than the ten minutes taken by the fastest human competitors, but still not bad for microchips on wheels.
Now, Peugeot is the latest European to attempt an American invasion at 14,000-feet. The lion has history, glorious history here in the shape of the great rally driver Ari Vatanen and the amazing 600bhpPeugeot 405 T16. A one-off, built especially for the climb, the 405 and its Finnish driver became the stars of a film called Climb Dance, which followed the pair up the hill across every rut, rock and stone, as Ari recorded his 10 minute 14 second ascent. It’s exciting enough to watch (YouTube it when you get a chance) but becomes even more so when you remember that, no, there is no barrier separating car and driver from a long plummet to the base of the Pike.
This time, Peugeot is turning to home-grown talent behind the wheel and multiple World Rally Champion Sebastian Loeb will make the run behind the wheel of a specially made Peugeot 208 T16.
It could be dismissed as a bit of pointless eighties nostalgia by Peugeot, but there may be a deeper reason at hand. Part of the reason Peugeot has recently slumped into financial difficulties is that it relied almost totally on the European car market, which has, of course, pretty much died a death in recent years. Peugeot ceased sales in North America on the back of some dismal results there in 1991, ending 33 years of US and Canadian sales. A return to the US could be a route to spreading Peugeot’s sales further afield, something that it cannot do without, and a result at Pikes Peak would be a useful addition to any marketing campaign.
In the meantime, there is the mountain, there is the wonderfully aggressive 208 T16 and there is the nine-time World Rally champion, itching to stamp his brilliance on a new challenge. This is going to be high altitude entertainment.