Nine-time World Rally champion Sebastien Loeb on Sunday was the first car on the track after the motorcycles completed their runs at the 91st Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, but it didn't take him long to make his mark, and it was an indelible one -- eight minutes, 13.878 seconds, about a minute and a half better than the existing record. His average speed up the mountain was a blistering 87.471 mph, 16.7-percent faster than the record set last year by Rhys Millen.
The Peugeot factory effort came to Pikes Peak for nothing less. The 208 T16 Pikes Peak car, sponsored by Red Bull, was a contender immediately, emphasizing how serious they were by bringing an enormous crew and renting the entire mountain for a day to practice. The French rally driver was flawless, never looking like he was pushing his car to its true limits, immediately raising speculation at the track about the possibility of a seven-minute run.
"Amazing," said Loeb, as he was mobbed by fans, friends and crew.
The second fastest qualifier was Romain Dumas in a Norma, but he suffered mechanical problems moments after starting up to the 14,115-foot summit. Rhys Millen, the third car off the line, driving a Hyundai, ran a 9:02.192, which except for Loeb's incredible run, would have been huge news, since Millen's record last year was 9:46.
He knew he had nothing for Loeb.
"Sebastien was in a league of his own this year," Millen said. "The race today was between myself and Dumas, but Dumas broke a gearbox, so that never happened. But we got a solid second." The car performed "flawlessly." Millen said. "A one-two for Red Bull," he said, with a car that has an engine that is a 90-percent stock Hyundai Genesis powerplant.
Sleet and snow struck much of the course with more than half the cars remaining to run, but several drivers managed fast sub-10-minute times before the track got slick. Jean-Phillippe Dayraut ran 9:42 in a Mini Countryman, and Mark Rennison ran 9:46 in a Ford RS 200, both cars in the Unlimited class, as was Spencer Steele, who ran 9:57 in a PVA. Paul Dallenbach won the Time Attack class with a 9:46 in the Hyundai that Rhys Millen drove to a record last year. Dallenbach said it was tense at times -- he hit some rain, and lost his brakes near the end.
Also in Time Attack, David Donner ran 9:53 in a Porsche GT3 Cup.
The electric-car class drew some fast runs, too, especially by “Monster” Tajima, the Japanese veteran who was the first and only driver to get under 10 minutes in Pikes Peak history when he made his legendary run in 2011 when part of the track was still dirt. It was completely paved last year, which resulted in some nine-minute runs. Tajima brought an electric car last year but it had problems, but not this year, as he ran a startling 9:46.53 in his E-Runner, a product of his own company.
In all, there were 83 motorcycles (including quads and sidecars) and 63 cars (including trucks) entered. It was undeniably the largest crowd in years, if not ever – “It was almost like a pro rally out there with people getting out in front of you on the track,” said Paul Dallenbach. “But there’s so many people, there’s nowhere to put them all.”