No race is as important to a French company like Peugeot as the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The annual endurance classic is arguably tougher than ever, now requiring not just complete reliability but also outright speed as the little hand goes twice around the clock. To up the pressure, it all happens in front of a larger crowd than practically any other sporting event you can think of. So after more than a decade’s hiatus, Peugeot is returning to Le Mans with its eyes on the overall win. And the company hopes to do it with a new hybrid formally revealed to the world on Tuesday morning; it’s called the 9X8.
Peugeot first saw success at Le Mans in 1992 and 1993, during the very final days of Group C. It then switched its attention to Formula 1 for a while, supplying engines to McLaren, Jordan, and then Prost with diminishing success. In 2007, Peugeot returned to endurance racing to face off against the might of Audi’s domination, and in 2009 it beat the Germans at Le Mans with its 908 prototype. In 2012, the company was going to field a hybrid version of the 908 before the entire program was cancelled following an economic downturn for the business.
We got a brief golden era of hybrid endurance racers anyway between 2013-2017 as Toyota and then Porsche joined Audi in the LMP1h category at Le Mans. But LMP1h proved to be prohibitively expensive, even if it did give rise to some of the coolest racing cars to ever turn a wheel. The new Le Mans Hypercar (LMH) regulations are an attempt to fix that, allowing some (hopefully road-relevant) technical freedom and road car styling together with other measures meant to keep costs sane.
This year we’ve already seen LMH cars from Toyota, Alpine, and Glickenhaus, and the new ruleset is even tempting Ferrari to build its first endurance prototype since the 333SP of the late 1990s. (There’s a separate ruleset here in the US called LMDh that begins in 2023, and that is attracting entries from Acura, Audi, BMW, and Porsche, with possible entries also coming from Cadillac and Hyundai. Luckily, the people that write the two sets of rules are working together so LMH and LMDh cars can compete together.)
LMH cars don’t have to be hybrids, but Peugeot has chosen a hybrid powertrain for the 9X8. A 670 hp (500kW) 2.6 L, 90-degree turbocharged V6 internal combustion engine drives the rear wheels, with a 268 hp (200 kW) electric motor/generator unit mounted at the front axle and powered by a 900 V battery. However, total output is capped at 670 hp, so the V6 and electric motor will not both produce peak power at the same time.
The LMH regulations were originally meant to attract racing versions of road legal hypercars like the Aston Martin Valkyrie, and so the regulations allow for road car-like styling, something Peugeot has taken advantage of here. Most notably, the 9X8 has no rear wing.
“Designing the 9X8 has been a passionate experience because we had the freedom to invent, innovate and explore off-the-wall ways to optimize the car’s performance, and more especially its aerodynamics,” said Olivier Jansonnie, technical director of Peugeot’s 9X8 program. “The regulations stipulate that only one adjustable aerodynamic device is permitted, without specifying the rear wing. Our calculation work and simulations revealed that high performance was effectively possible without one.”
“The absence of a rear wing on the Peugeot 9X8 is a major innovative step,” said Stellantis motorsport director Jean-Marc Finot. “We have achieved a degree of aerodynamic efficiency that allows us to do away with this feature. Don’t ask how, though! We have every intention of keeping that a secret as long as we possibly can!”
My theory is that LMH’s target 3:30 lap time at Le Mans means aerodynamics won’t be quite as important as they were when the prototypes were lapping 15 seconds quicker, but I could be completely wrong.
Listing image by Peugeot Sport