The buzz surrounding Sebastien Loeb only seemed to grow for the two weeks leading up to the 91st running of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. Fellow drivers knew the Frenchman was capable of something special, but nobody anticipated the impossible.
Loeb, driving a 2013 Peugeot 208 T16 Pikes Peak, raced up the mountain on June 30 in blazing fashion that still has many folks wondering “How did he do it?”
His time of 8 minutes, 13.878 seconds was more than a minute and a half faster than the previous record time.
“I felt really good in the car, and I pushed it hard from the start to the finish,” said an elated Loeb, after reaching the top of the 14,110-foot summit. “I made no mistakes, and I felt the race was really good. To drive a car like this and race up here (to the top) is what makes this special. It's amazing.
“I'm really happy with the time I achieved. We'll see in the future if we come back.”
Loeb maneuvered the mountain in relative ease, taking each of the 156 turns along the 12.42 mile course and making the pavement his own personal playground. He reached top speeds of over 150 mph, while averaging a mind-boggling 87 mph.
“So many tears to break the 10-minute mark, and Sebastien just blows through this in less than nine minutes like it was nothing,” said long-time Hill Climb racer Layne Schranz, who finished second in the Pikes Peak Open division behind his father, Randy. “What a machine. What a driver.
“I know all of Europe was watching Sebastien blow that record, so congratulations to all everybody.”
Loeb's incredible run was one of those moments that will forever be etched in Hill Climb lore. It was just two years ago that the elusive 10-minite barrier was finally cracked by Nobuhiro “Monster” Tajima - arguably the most popular and greatest racer in the Hill Climb history.
Tajima's time of 9:51 was mind-blowing because it occurred when the final 2 ½ miles of road was still gravel. Competitors and fans alike understand the full significance of what Tajima accomplished on one of the most dangerous race courses in the world.
With the road fully paved for the first time last year, two more drivers - also from foreign lands - joined the 9-minute club; Romain Dumas of France (9:46.181) and Rhys Millen of Australia (9:46.164).
Dumas and Millin went head-to-head with Loeb this year, but with mixed results. Dumas's engine blew up shortly after he left the start line. Millin ran an impressive time of 9:02.192.
Dumas gave Loeb an assist by loaning him his face video from last year's Hill Climb.
“He didn't need it,” Dumas said with a smile. “He's good enough.”
In any other year, Millin's fast run would have left fans in awe. But his run came after Dumas not only the conquered the mountain, but brought it to its knees.
“When you saw what he was doing in practice you knew he might be get into the low 8s,” said Woodland Park's Clint Vahsholtz, who won the Open Wheel division with a time of 11:07.
Loeb, 39, came to Pikes Peak with already impressive credentials. In 2012, he won his ninth consecutive World Rally Championship. He finished second at the famed 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2006.
Peugeot was looking to make a statement at Pikes Peak. That's why they dumped - by some reports - as much as $6 million into this race alone. They famous French car company said this was probably just a one-time venture, but many are wondering if they will make a return to “America's Mountain” in 2014.
June 30 marked the first time Peugeot had competed at Pikes Peak since back-to-back titles in 1988 and 1989 by Ari Vatanen and Robby Unser.
Twitter went crazy on Sunday afternoon after Loeb's record run. French men and women (the Hill Climb is more popular in Europe and Japan than in America) tweeted their praises to their beloved countryman.
The conditions were nearly perfect for Loeb, who took off up the mountain around 11:30 a.m. Temperatures were in the mid 60s and the moisture (rain and snow) was not to come for at least an hour.
As expected, numerous records fell at the historic race - the second oldest auto race in America behind the Indianapolis 500.
Tajima, 63, a nine-time Unlimited division champion, switched from his traditional gasoline-powered past to the Electric Auto Division last year. His first attempt failed when he had to shut down because of an onboard fire. But not so on June 30.
Tajima piloted his electric 2013 E-Runner Pikes Peak Special to victory with a new Electric record clocking of 9:46.530.
Veteran driver Paul Dallenbach of Basalt won the Time Attack division with a time of 9:46.001, driving the Hyundai Genesis Coupe that Rhys Millen drove last year.
Carlin Dunne of Santa Barbara, Calif. - who owns the race's overall record for the motorcycles at 9:52.819 - again was the fastest motorcycle, clocking a time of 10:00.694 on his 2013 Lightning Electric SuperBike in the Exhibition Powersports class. France's Bruno Langlois set a record on his 2013 Ducati Multistrada in winning the Pikes Peak 1205 class with time of 10:21.323, while Jeffrey Tigert's 10:32.964 mark on his 2013 Honda CRF450 established a new Pikes Peak 450 class record.
Michael Coburn's 11:05.874 time on his 2013 Walsh 450R was a Quad Modified class record, and Woodland Park's Codie Vahsholtz set a Pikes Peak 250 record with a time of 11:24.792 on his 1996 Kawasaki KX 250.
The race was delayed twice in the morning wave after a pair of motorcycle riders were injured after crashing off the course. Michael Applehns of Denver, racing in the Pikes Peak Superbike 750 class, went off the course in his 2006 Suzuki GSXR, and Alex Moreno of Dublin, Ohio, also crashed his 2008 Honda CBR1000RR off the course.
Both riders were airlifted to Colorado Springs-area hospitals for treatment.