Sébastien Loeb has had a first taste of the car which he’ll be tackling the Pikes Peak hill climb with in June, but rather than take it in his stride, Loeb was genuinely shocked by how violently quick the 208 T16 accelerates, brakes and grips around the corners.
After just a handful of laps, he realised it was quite unlike anything he’d driven before, “The 208 T16 Pikes Peak is a rocket!” said Loeb, “It’s so powerful! The first time you drive it, each gear change practically stuns you. The shifts are really brutal, and it takes a little time to anticipate the sudden jarring. You get used to it, but it was quite disorienting to begin with.”
“It’s got the downforce of a Formula 1 car, the wide tyres of an endurance racing prototype and a differential, like a WRC car..
The nine-time world champion who has spent a career driving insanely quick WRC cars, was stunned by the 208’s acceleration, which sprints from 0 to 62mph in 1.8 seconds – in other words, faster than a F1 car.
“In the lower gears, a Formula 1 car doesn’t deliver maximum power. With the Peugeot, though, it’s bang, bang, bang as you move up the box from standstill. Thanks to its four-wheel drive transmission and turbocharged engine, its pull-away performance is phenomenal! You find yourself in sixth gear at 240kph in no time at all!”
It is not only the gearbox which made a big impression on rallying’s superstar. “Thanks to its aerodynamic downforce and wide tyres, its braking is amazing, too.” he exclaimed. “In fact, the 208 package is a combination of the best of several worlds: it’s got the downforce of a Formula 1 car, the wide tyres of an endurance racing prototype and a differential, like a WRC car.”
As the familiarisation process continued, Loeb was clearly won over by the unique experience: “I have driven many types of car in my career, but this is very, very different. Its acceleration performance and stopping power are more like those of a Formula 1 single-seater than a rally car. Its handling is fantastic as well; there’s so much grip, and the all-wheel drive transmission makes it very stable. It’s got huge potential.”
It’s early days and there’s still much to do before the team pack up and head to Colorado at the end of June. “This track isn’t very wide and there aren’t any run-offs, so I’m taking things one step at a time.” said Loeb.
“I don’t know what the car’s limits are yet but it was important to do this run on a circuit today. Now we have a better idea of where we stand and a better overview of the car’s potential. After that, the challenge will be to try to feel totally at one with the car on the Pikes Peak Hill Climb itself. That will take some work.”
A busy test programme has been scheduled over the next few weeks, on a variety of circuits, roads and (most importantly) at altitude. Pikes Peak is literally a race to the clouds – reaching an altitude of 4,301 metres by the finish – and cars experience a considerable drop-off in performance during the course’s 1,430 metre climb.