The mission of any race car designer is to juggle with the restrictions and constraints dictated by the regulations in areas like height, body form, the size and location of the powerplant, etc. It’s a stimulating challenge, but can also be highly frustrating at times. Deep down, engineers have just one desire - to throw away the rule book and design the ultimate, no-holds-barred machine with just one objective in mind: the quest for absolute performance.
The Pikes Peak Hill Climb is the only race in the world that permits allows this fantasy to become reality. The very mention of the event and its celebrated ‘Unlimited’ class is enough to bring a twinkle to the eyes of any designer.
The giddy altitudes involved in the Colorado hill climb present a unique technical challenge: that of ensuring the engine is able to breathe as freely as possible in the rarefied air. "In the case of a normally-aspirated engine, you basically lose one percent of the available power every 100 metres you climb," notes Peugeot Sport Director Bruno Famin. This is a fundamental parameter that has to be taken into account for this race which starts at an altitude of 2,865 metres and finishes at 4,301 metres. By the time they reach the start line, certain engines automatically shed some 30 percent of their potential. A powerful engine is consequently essential because there can be no question of Sébastien Loeb lacking power on the day.
Peugeot Sport’s answer is a derivative of the bi-turbo V6 which was designed for endurance racing. With this 875-horsepower powerplant under the bonnet, the 208 T16 Pikes Peak will boast even more power than a Formula 1 single-seater. It goes without saying that it will be the most powerful car ever driven by world rallying’s multiple champion. This will be motorsport to the extreme, especially since the guard rails that are a hallmark of traditional circuits make way for steep drops in the case of the Pikes Peak Hill Climb.
In its bid to reach out to the clouds, Peugeot Sport has also paid careful attention to providing Sébastien Loeb with a particularly lightweight car, reducing it to just 875kg. As a result, this has achieved a power-to-weight ratio of 1:1. Meanwhile, to be sure that the car’s handling is as agile as possible, the weight distribution of the tubular-framed machine has been meticulously fine-tuned, with the engine sitting in a mid-rear position, like the famous Group B rally cars of the 1980s and like endurance racing prototypes.
The 208 T16 Pikes Peak effectively shares its genes with those of the Le Mans 24 Hours-winning 908 in several areas. Indeed, last year’s Pikes Peak took place for the first time on an entirely asphalted course, so the machine conceived by Peugeot Sport is practically an out-and-out endurance racing prototype.
Also like that of a Le Mans car, the 208’s aerodynamic package has been meticulously honed. "We believe efficient aerodynamics can give us a competitive edge over our rivals," notes Peugeot Sport engineer Jean-Christophe Pallier. "The speeds reached during the ascension range from 30 to 150mph, and aerodynamics play a key role from 60mph." The 208 T16 Pikes Peak’s hallmark rear wing and front splitter are not only spectacular, but they are also awesomely efficient. Meanwhile, although invisible, the design of the car’s under-tray is responsible for generating almost half the car’s downforce.
Last but by no means least, the Peugeot 208 T16 Pikes Peak sits on bespoke Michelin tyres which provide the four driven wheels with invaluable grip. To tackle the 156 turns that stand between Sébastien Loeb and the Colorado clouds, the most successful driver in rallying history will most definitely benefit from one of the most potent purpose-engineered cars ever designed for motorsport.