Rowan Horncastle03 February 2014

TG's racecar of 2013: Peugeot 208 T16

Pug's mad 875bhp rallyist is heading to RallyX. Here's why we crowned it our racer of the year

As Ricky Bobby will testify, in motorsport, if you ain't first, you're last. There's no reward for most improved, time spent in the wind tunnel or who puts on the best spread in the pits. It's winning that matters. If you screw up, you screw up. But if you do snafu the start of the season, in most forms of motorsport you have another race or round to catch up. That wasn't the case for the 208 T16.

At Pikes Peak this summer, Peugeot had one road, one driver and one chance for glory. It needed a car that would win. But winning wasn't enough for the team of 12 based just outside Paris. To them it was a balls-to-the-wall, "Let's kick the crap out of our competitors and rip the record books a new one" or nothing approach.

And, thanks to a perfect storm of a no-holds-barred Unlimited class, the road up the rocky mountain being freshly paved and a redundant Le Mans programme's worth of parts to play with, the French company was able to create a car that answered a day dreamer's "What if?..." What if you fitted the 3.2-litre V6, monster turbocharger, steering components, big brakes, much of the suspension and the massive two-metre-wide rear wing and diffuser know-how from a Le Mans car into a small hatchback? The answer: a ticket straight to the automotive Hall of Fame.

With 875bhp fed to the road through all four wheels, in a car that sucks itself to the floor, devours gears, weighs 875kg and has a 1:1 power-to-weight ratio, the speed the little Pug was capable of up the two-lane, 12.42-mile, 156-turn, 9,383-foot ascent was barely comprehensible. Zero to 62mph in 1.8 seconds, 125mph following just three seconds later and smacking the limiter at 151mph. This, with a soundtrack of a race-spec engine, beastly transmission, whooshing of turbos and the occasional lick of flame, made a car that tingles the nerves of every petrolhead... yet scrambles the brain like Willy Wonka's wallpaper. The familiarity of the silhouette mixed with the foreignness of the speed creates quite a spectacle.

With no full practice runs allowed at the Peak, it was a one-shot gig. A single slip of a tyre would create a turbocharged ground-to-air missile, so composure was absolutely key. Luckily, they had nine-time WRC champion and multiple-winning TG Man of the Year Sébastien Loeb behind the wheel. Someone who shares several similarities with the car: he being French, fast and unrivalled.

He did his part, setting a time of 8:13.878. Two seconds quicker than PeugeotSport's computer had thought possible, 48 seconds faster than his nearest rival - who shaved a colossal 44 seconds off his own best time - and hammered a stake deep, deep into the record books. If you thought Climb Dance was popular, wait another 10 years to see how many views the 208 T16 run gets on YouTube - it'll go down as one of motorsport's greatest moments.

But that's what happens when you bring the holy trinity of the best team, best car and best driver together. You reinvent fast. So raise your glasses to the 208 T16. A car that quite literally doesn't play by the rules.

VIDEO: TG's favourite rallyist Kris Meeke drives the Peugeot 208 T16

Want more on the 208 T16? Hit the links below

Up close with the 208 T16 as it gets built

Watch Loeb smash the Pikes Peak record

Top Gear drives the Peugeot 208 T16

This feature was originally published in the 2013 Awards issue of Top Gear magazine

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