When Sébastien Loeb’s helicopter landed alongside the high security track at La Ferté-Vidame, in North Western France, the rally star believed he was in for a routine test session. However, after just a handful of laps in the car, he realised that this was something different. "The 208 T16 Pikes Peak is a rocket! 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."
The Frenchman may have seen it all on world rallying’s most challenging stages, but his words were far from blasé after his first taste of the 208 T16 Pikes Peak. "I’ve never driven anything that accelerates so fast!" he remarked. "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. Due to its four-wheel drive transmission and turbocharged engine, its pull-away performance is phenomenal! You find yourself in sixth gear at 150mph in no time at all!" Indeed, with a 0-62mph time of 1.8s, the 208 T16 Pikes Peak would leave any F1 car standing.
It is not only the gearbox which made a big impression on the rallying superstar. "Due to its aerodynamic downforce and wide tyres, its braking is amazing, too," he exclaimed. "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, Sébastien 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."
Like any thoroughbred, however, the 208 T16 Pikes Peak will need to be broken in, since Sébastien Loeb has no intention of allowing the car to be the one in control. On the contrary; with nine World Rally titles to his name, he approaches the mission with his trademark calm: "This track isn’t very wide and there aren’t any run-offs, so I’m taking things one step at a time. 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."
When the big day comes to race to the Colorado summit at an altitude of 4,301 metres, Sébastien Loeb will need to be capable of mastering every buck and kick of the thoroughbred if he is to steer clear of the many pitfalls that await him along the giddy 20-kilometre course. And that will require perfect osmosis between the French champion and his extremely powerful steed.
To give this fusion every chance of happening, Peugeot Sport has scheduled a busy test programme at circuits, on roads and at altitude as the next phase of this extraordinary project which the multiple World Rally Champion finds particularly stimulating: "I really can’t wait to get to drive the 208 T16 Pikes Peak in Colorado!"
Follow Peugeot’s Pikes Peak adventure at #PeugeotPikesPeak