Last summer TopGear.com braved altitude sickness, ridiculously early starts and an outrageous consumption of Cheetos that tattooed our fingers and lips orange to bring you coverage from the world’s greatest hill climbing event: Pikes Peak. And this year we’re back.
The big story last time around was the hoopla surrounding the paving of the road, and actual Monsters piloting silent EVs. This year is different. It’s all about one car, one man and one record. Think of the 2013 International Hill Climb on America’s Mountain as Pikes Peak Episode 91: Peugeot Strikes Back.
If you’ve been in an iron lung the last few months, you may not know that Peugeot is returning to Pikes for the first time since Ari Vatanen and Robby Unser won back-to-back Open Rally titles in ‘88 and ‘89 in the amazing 405 T16. That car had to compete on gravel and tarmac, but things have changed now that all 12.42 miles and 156 turns have become icily smooth. Without the need for big suspension travel, Peugeot’s new Unlimited Class car – the 208 T16 – is more like a race car. Actually, more like a pocket-sized Le Mans prototype to be precise.
It uses a 3.2-litre V6 endurance block that’s had a modified version of the turbocharger from the team’s 908 diesel Le Mans racer strapped on. This means 875bhp in a car that weights 875kg, Yes, scratch your head and do the math. That’s 1000bhp per tonne, son.
But you also need someone behind the wheel. Luckily, they’ve got this bloke called Seb Loeb, only the most successful rally driver in history, and he isn’t half showing his ability here in Colorado. On his run along the lower portion of the mountain yesterday (practice sessions see the mountain split in three, with each section contested over three days) he registered a time of 3m 26.153s, some 17 seconds faster than former Le Mans winner Romain Dumas in a Norma prototype. Times like this have never, ever been seen before.
Having seen the car run, TG can clarify that a) the 208 is really rather special, and b) chuffing quick. It looks like it’s in a different league. The steering, brakes, rear suspension and aero are all borrowed from the 908 Le Mans racer, meaning the traction and downforce allow the car to flow along the road in a completely different way to the other 13 cars in the class.
Then there’s the noise and the drama. It’s not so much from the engine as there’s plenty here that can rival that, but it’s more from the gearbox. It fires through its short gears like a Gatling gun. And with the side exit exhausts, the car kicks up dust like a fat man belly flopping on a full hoover bag. Then bang, bang, bang through more gears and silly speeds are happening very quickly.
Cast your minds back, and there was a long, hard fought battle for cars to get under the 10-minute barrier here at Pikes. But with this terrifying little 208, no rules and a handy driver at the wheel, Peugeot is capable of a sub nine-minute time. That wouldn’t break Rhys Millen’s 9m 46.164s from last year – a new world record in itself, some five seconds quicker than previous record-holder ‘Monster’ Tajima’s 2011 run – but absolutely decimate it.
So keep your fingers crossed for good weather, as that’s what they’re relying on. And in the meantime click through some photos from today’s Unlimited practice. We’ll be filling the gallery up as and when we can and bringing you more news and interviews – including one from Seb himself. So stay tuned, Climb Dance fans.
Words & pictures: Rowan Horncastle
No reproduction of pictures without permission