Rally Car world champ Sebastien Loeb sets sight on Pikes Peak Hill Climb title

By: BROOKE PRYOR brooke.pryor@gazette.com
June 14, 2013 Updated: June 14, 2013 at 5:25 pm
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As a nine-time World Rally Car champion, Sebastien Loeb is pretty serious about winning.

Which is why, in his first attempt at the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, the Frenchman teamed up with one of the historically best teams to tackle the 12.42-mile course, full of hairpin turns and take-your-breath-away views.

"It's a long time that I was thinking one day to do it," Loeb said Friday. "I had the proposition this year with Peugeot to do it like this. For me, if I wanted to do it, then I wanted to do it seriously with a good car, with a good chance to win and not just for fun."

But long before Loeb began preparing for the harrowing race, Peugeot started dreaming up an idea to return to the summit on top, a feat that the team hasn't captured since 1989.

The process began in August 2012, when the team started thinking about entering the race. By November, it was given the green light and began drawing a concept for the car.

But the process was for more difficult than drawing a few pictures of a car and its parts. The true challenge was preparing for unknown terrain that traversed high elevation and drastic temperature fluctuations.

Instead of traveling to Colorado Springs, the team consulted Romain Dumas, last year's overall runner-up. With his help, the Peugeot team completed a car in February with specifications to contend for a first-place finish in 2013.

All that was missing was a driver.

Enter internationally renowned Loeb.

Dumas was the team's first choice, Peugeot spokeswoman Cecile Estenave said, but he was a part of the Porsche team and couldn't switch to driving a Peugeot car for the Hill Climb.

With that in mind, the team reached out to Loeb, who committed to the team in March.

After testing Peugeot's 208 T16 in April, the team brought the car over to the United States and has been in Colorado Springs for nearly a month preparing for the race.

Key in those preparations is finding the correct tires to handle the varying terrain and change in air pressure. And then there's the task of carving sharp turn after sharp turn at speeds of more than 100 mph.

"I just try to concentrate on my driving because the corners arrive quite quickly, so you have be focused on what you do," Loeb said. "You don't have much time to think about something else."

Though on paper the task seems nearly impossible, Loeb and his team didn't appear anxious or worried. In fact, Loeb is predicted to possibly not only break the 10-minute mark, but perhaps post an unheard of sub-9-minute time.

But he and his team aren't thinking about the record. The first priority, Estenave said, is to get first place, then they'll shift focus to breaking the course record of 9:46.164 posted by Time Attack division winner Rhys Millen last year.

On Friday morning, Loeb completed two full practice runs on the course, his first full ones, and felt confident after the runs.

He'll have a few more practices in different sections of the course before tackling it with the rest of the field in the 91st running June 30.

As a gymnast in his younger years, Loeb has been known to occasionally perform acrobatic celebrations, but if he takes first in a few weeks, Loeb will likely hold off on those celebrations.

"For my first title I did (a back flip), but I don't do flips every time," he said. "I don't have a plan for one this time. There's not enough oxygen on the top to do it."

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