Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Loeb at Pikes Peak

Words - Daniel Bevis, Photos - Peugeot

It’s hard to contextualise Sebastian Loeb’s achievement at Pikes Peak, with the shadow of Ari Vatanen perennially looming over the historic hillclimb. To the hardened motor enthusiast, Climb Dance is as ingrained in the psyche as C’etait un Rendezvous or, er, the 1992 BTCC season finale. Watching Vatanen ascend the dusty mountain, cinematically and balletically, in a caricaturised evolution of a Group B fugitive is real heart-in-mouth stuff. His Pioneer-liveried 405 T16 – a rebodied successor to the previous year’s ill-fated 205 T16, itself borne of the most extreme rally series – is like a force of nature, simultaneously dominating apices and dancing across the shifting surface in a sylph-like whisper. Indeed, the moment when Ari lifts his hand from the wheel to shade his eyes from the sun has become, he says, the defining moment for the fans – to this day they raise their hands to him, mimicking the gesture in a respectful salute.
If you’ve never seen Climb Dance, here it is:

Now, one might argue that Loeb’s achievement, smashing the Pikes Peak record in the all-new 208 T16 this week, is a sanitised version of Vatanen’s iconic run. The new car was developed specifically for the event, rather than being a highly-strung refugee from a rally series that was cancelled for being just too damned dangerous. And when Ari ran the hill, it was over loose gravel and dust, not the flawlessly smooth Tarmac of today.
This is all stuff and nonsense, of course. What Sebastian did is frankly staggering, by no means a poor relation to the fabled Dance, and you just need to watch the on-board footage to verify that. (Scroll down to the end, you’ll see.)
With just a few days of practice, Loeb wrestled the popping, spitting 875bhp monster to the summit in 8m 13.878s – faster, even, than Peugeot’s own computer modelling predicted was possible. The bewinged, adrenalised hatchback, with its Le Mans-derived aerodynamics, shovel-like nose, and livery that apes in part that of the old 405 T16, accelerates faster than an F1 car. And this is driving up a steep hill with no margin for error if you make a mid-corner mistake. There are a lot of rocks and trees on the way down.

Sure, Loeb’s run isn’t as raw or as Hollywood as Vatanen's. But that’s two and a half decades of technology for you.

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