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Memories of riding shot gun with Ari Vatanen up Pikes Peak

Submitted by on July 26, 2013

Ari Vatanen pikes peak

8m13.876s: That’s the length of time it took Sebastien Loeb to cover 12.42 miles (and 156 corners) of smooth Colorado asphalt to shatter the Pikes Peak hillclimb record last Sunday. He took just over a minute off Rhys Millen’s 2012 time and it was light years away from the last time that Peugeot held the record at 10m47.220s as seen by millions in the classic motorsport film Climb Dance showing Ari’s 1988 victory.

By Keith Oswin

I first visited ‘America’s Mountain’ the previous year when Peugeot was running a 205 T16 against Audi’s massive-winged Quattro, driven by Walter Rohrl. Loeb’s spaceframe racer, with the perfect 1:1 power to weight ratio of 850bhp/850kgs is a far cry from the Camel-liveried 205 that Ari had. Over the three days of practice the car’s appearance changed daily; an extra rear wing appeared on day two then end plates were added for day three and the subsequent race. The Peugeot had 550bhp compared to Audi’s 620bhp and it was struggling.

Ari was immense as usual but on the first day of practice I spotted that his car had a co-driver’s seat. I hadn’t seen any evidence of him using a co-driver for the event so asked what it was doing there. “Get some overalls on and I’ll show you…” And so I squeezed into engineer Jean-Claude Vaucard’s overalls, strapped myself in and saw the hill from the best seat in the house…

Sadly I couldn’t bag the seat for the race but Ari did take me to the summit in his road car, sharing the driver’s view of the twists and turns of the famous course. “This corner is Blue Sky,” he said. “That’s all you can see as you approach so you need to remember which way the corner goes. If you go off the edge it could spoil your day!”


As we freewheeled down from the summit (Ari had forgotten to check there was enough fuel on board to cover 25 miles and the run back to the hotel…) we passed a hill-ranger, the Pikes PeakĀ  traffic cops who check for speeding and also stop cars to make sure their brakes aren’t overheating. He snapped a sharp salute at Ari and I asked the reason for this act of deference. Apparently he’d stopped the Finn for being a bit too enthusiastic one day. Ari had to accept the cop’s decision but told him to visit the Peugeot team when they were testing the next day. Ari strapped the guy into the passenger seat of the race car and every time he saw him after that he saluted – probably in fear he’d be made to take another ride!

pike peak

That 1987 event was one of the highlights of my days at Autosport, the time spent with Ari cementing a friendship that has endured ever since. For Ari it was also of great personal significance as it completed his recovery from the dark days following his near-fatal Argentina accident. Only Ari and I were present at the exact time the fog lifted for him and I must remain true to my promise not to reveal the details of how it occurred but, for Ari it was definitely a ‘Road to Damascus’ moment that launched the next phase of his illustrious career.

One year on and Peugeot avenged its 1987 defeat by Rohrl. The 205 was now the 405 with 4WD and four-wheel steer. Climb Dance tells the story brilliantly and hopefully Peugeot will release Climb Dance 2 to tell how they conquered the mountain once more, 25 years on. But for Ari and I the true story of Pikes Peak lies behind the records (which can be beaten and forgotten) and firmly in the realm of human emotion which lasts forever.

By Keith Oswin


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