Loeb's time blitzed the previous best of 9m46.164s, set by Rhys Millen last year, with the top three finishers all beating the 2012 record. "For me, this was the race of the year," said Loeb at the finish, 4300 metres high in the Rocky Mountains. "At the beginning of my run there was a bit of pressure for sure because I knew there was so much work and investment from Peugeot and all the partners. Now, after all the practice, it was just down to me and I had to perform."
Loeb started first of the Unlimited class cars, unleashing his 875-horsepower car onto the mountain this morning after all the motorcycle competitors had passed through. However there were a number of delays before he started, which meant that the team began to worry about bad weather: a common feature of Pikes Peak at high altitude. "When I was on the start line waiting to go, I could actually see the clouds closing in at the top of the mountain," said Loeb. "I remember thinking that if we didn't get going soon, it would be really difficult."
As it was, Loeb blasted his 208 T16 Pikes Peak through the clouds in a time that was even quicker than Peugeot Sport's computer had thought was possible. The ideal theoretical time – calculated using data from Loeb's practice runs up the Colorado mountain – was 8m15s. The nine-time world rally champion somehow managed to shave two seconds off that.
"I'm really happy as that was a very good run in the end," said Loeb. "I really didn't expect anything better than 8m15s, so to do 8m13s was fantastic. Before the start I didn't really know if I should push absolutely to the maximum or if I should just push to a comfortable pace, in order to make sure of the victory. In the end, I decided to push to the limit."
The result was spectacular, with Loeb now joining the pantheon of Pikes Peak winners.
Sébastien Loeb has broken every record there is to break in the World Rally Championship but he's not quite done with firsts yet. We caught up with the man who has not just blitzed the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb: instead comprehensively pulverized it with a blue and white sledgehammer built by Peugeot Sport...
Sébastien, what did it feel like to drive the 208 T16 Pikes Peak?
SL: "It's definitely a very special feeling and a big moment. You have the downforce of a Le Mans car, with acceleration that is faster than a Formula One car, going through scenery that is a bit like rallying. It just comes out of corners like a cannonball; the traction is astounding. With steep drops either side, and so much work and investment going into this programme, you obviously can't make any mistakes... It's 20 kilometres of taking risks. There was a certain amount of pressure that I felt before the start, that's true."
How do you find the right balance between being quick enough to win but safe enough not go off?
SL: "Good question... In fact, before starting, I spent a lot of time thinking about whether or not to push to the maximum to get a really good record or whether or not just to push hard enough to get a result so that we could win. In the end, once I was in the car, I decided to push hard. I'd say I was pretty much on the limit of it with every corner. But it was OK, we didn't have any moments at all."
How does this win rank among all your other achievements?
SL: "Well, I'm not going to say it's like winning a rally title but it still means a lot. I always looked at Pikes Peak in the past and thought that it would be nice to do it one day, and now here I am. For me, with what I'm doing this season, it's the race of the year. Of all the cars I've driven this year, the 208 T16 Pikes Peak is definitely the most fun. This one is a good record, which I think will be quite hard to beat."