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Monday, 1 July 2013

Sebastien Loeb Obliterates Pikes Peak On His First Attempt

Possibly the world's happiest rally car, piloted by possibly the world's fastest racing driver
The legendary Pikes Peak International Hillclimb may well have had to compete with the legendary British Grand Prix this weekend, just one week after the legendary Le Mans 24 Hours, but as it turned out in the mountains of Colorado, there was no competing with Sebastien Loeb. If you haven't heard of Mr. Loeb, you need to watch more motorsports. Michael Schumacher won seven F1 World Championships, with a record five in a row through the early 2000s. Seb Loeb won the World Rally Championship nine times in a row from 2004 to 2012. The only reason it's not going to be a nice round ten is because he's only competing in the 2013 WRC part-time, as he winds down his rallying activity in preparation for a jump to the World Touring Car Championship next year, when long-time employer Citroën will enter the sport with (most probably) a new DS4 Racing, er, racing car.

Last year, Loeb tried his hand at Rallycross by entering the X-Games in a specially prepared DS3 (essentially a much more powerful version of his usual DS3 WRC). He won. This year, sister company Peugeot decided to enter Pikes Peak 25 years after Ari Vatanen had won the hillclimb in a special 405 T16 - a win immortalised in the short film Climb Dance that gets rally fans all twitchy and excited - so the Frenchman tried his hand at hillclimb racing in an utterly wild 875bhp, 875kg Peugeot 208 T16 Pikes Peak special with a mid-mounted turbo V6 (so not at all related to his WRC car). He won. By miles.

Last year's winning time was much faster than the 9:51.278 that Monster Tajima managed in 2011, because the track was fully-paved for the first time. For some reason (and also due to a couple of retirements) the Unlimited class didn't host the record-breaker, as Porsche GT driver Romain Dumas set a 9:46.181 in his "Pikes Peak Open" class 997 GT3R. This year, Rhys Millen, holder of the two-wheel-drive record, posted a 9:02.192 on the fully-paved road course, which is a massive amount faster than Dumas. But Loeb was off the scale, taking his Peugeot (with the rear wing and possibly floor from a 908 Le Mans Prototype) from the start to the summit 12 miles of death-threatening corners away in... are you ready for this?

8:13.878

Not only was he the first and only one to do it in under 9 minutes, but he did so by over fourty-six seconds. Millen's 9:02 was enough to get him second place. I'll say again that this is Loeb's first Pikes Peak event, going straight in at the completely unhinged Unlimited class. If that's not awe-inspiring, nothing is! It's fair to say that the time itself was always going to be very fast compared to previous years, as before now it was part-dirt and originally all-dirt, but that doesn't take away from beating your closest rival - who does this event every year and whose dad is also a legend on these bends - by 48 seconds. Based on what I've seen and read of Loeb, he was most likely completely calm afterwards as well. What a legend.

Nobuhiro "Monster" Tajima taking his all-conquering ways away from internal combustion, but not Pikes Peak
As for Monster Tajima, he entered in an electric car, so he had no chance of winning outright, but his [breathe] 2013 Tajima Sport E-Runner Pikes Peak Special was good enough for him to beat his own 2011 record with a 9:46.530, besting himself by 5 seconds or so and only being half a second off the Time Attack-class winner Paul Dallenbach. Not bad at all for a 63-year-old racing without an engine!

Next year, we'll probably see less record breaking going on, or at least not by such huge margins, but unless they allow fan cars or something in the Unlimited class, I suspect Mr. Loeb's record will stand for a long time to come...

UPDATE: Here's the full run from inside the car!


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