Peugeot’s return to top-level endurance racing should honor its illustrious past
Peugeot, the proud manufacturer that stopped at nothing to win the grueling 24 Hours of Le Mans in the early ’90s and again in the late ’00s and early ’10s, will be back at Le Mans in the summer of 2023 as part of a fully-fledged assault on the FIA World Endurance Championship from 2022 onwards. Peugeot, like Toyota, will compete with a bespoke hybrid hypercar not based on a current production model and the work will be carried out in-house by Peugeot Sport, although it’s believed outside partners such as ORECA could offer some assistance. Peugeot will thus make its debut in the FIA WEC in the third season of the new ’Hypercar’ regulations that come into effect next year for the 2020-2021 season.
Peugeot Sport, first with Frenchman Jean Todt at the helm and then with his pal Olivier Quesnel, has won the 24 Hours of Le Mans three times since it first took part in the French race all the way back in 1926. The company has also enjoyed success as an engine supplier, powering the early Pescarolos as well as the WM P88 Group C car, the fastest car to ever race at Le Mans that reached a top speed of 253 mph in 1988. With almost a century of history at Circuit de la Sarthe by the time Peugeot Sport’s new hypercar will debut in 2022, it’s safe to say the French automaker set its own bar very high for its comeback. In the light of this challenge - one that the French engineers most definitely relish - let’s take a quick look back at Peugeot’s history at Le Mans and in endurance racing as a whole.
1984 Peugeot 205 Turbo 16 Evolution 1 Group B
The Peugeot 205 T16 is the 347-horsepower all-wheel-drive beast from France that had both Lancia and Audi down on their knees in the second half of the Group B era. It was driven by the likes of Ari Vatanen, Bruno Saby, Timo Salonen, and Juha Kankkunen.
The 205 T16, with ‘T16’ standing for ‘Turbocharged 16’ since the car was fitted with a KKK turbocharger and a 16-valve cylinder head, is arguably a strange case in motorsport. As one of the most successful rally cars of the astonishing Group B era, it is criminally overlooked. People idolize the Audi Quattro for its innovative four-wheel-drive system or the Lancia 037 which was the last rear-wheel-drive car to win the WRC constructor’s title, but the 205 remains the unsung hero.
It only debuted in 1984, in the third season since the Group B rules came into effect. This first model was known as the Evolution 1 and lacked the flamboyant, but efficient, aerodynamic elements of the Evolution 2. Unlike your usual 205 GTI, for instance, the rally car had the engine in the middle, and it featured a changeable epicyclic gear train that was used to alter the amount of power sent to either axle.
Once surpassing the inherent issues that arise after debuting a brand-new car, the Peugeot Talbot Sport outfit, led by none other than the future general manager of the Ferrari F1 team, Jean Todt, crushed everyone in its path winning 13 rallies between 1985 and 1986.
2008 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP Le Mans Prototype
The 908 HDI FAP was Peugeot’s first top-flight Le Mans prototype in over a decade and was designed to take on the might of Audi in sports car endurance racing on both sides of the Atlantic. It was a 750-horsepower diesel beast with over 850 pound-feet of torque that requires an army of men to run even today.
The mid-‘00s heralded the introduction of the LMP1 category at the top of the FIA/ACO prototype endurance racing ladder. This set of rules came in effect in 2004 as a replacement to the LMP900 rules, but older LMP900 machinery was to be grandfathered in Europe and the U.S. until 2006. The Peugeot 908, announced in 2005, debuted in 2007, one year later after Audi’s own diesel LMP1 car, and became the former’s biggest nemesis as the only other diesel prototype until the end of this era.
The 908, which changed quite a bit during its five-seasons-long racing career, was vastly quicker than the Audis almost anywhere, beating Team Joest and Audi Sport North-America both in the European Le Mans Series and the American Le Mans Series on numerous occasions. However, Le Mans glory was achieved only once, in 2009, when Peugeot Sport Total scored a historic 1-2 finish ahead of the brand-new Audi R15. Peugeot abruptly ended their involvement in global endurance racing before the kick-off of the new-for-2012 World Endurance Championship, although their hybrid 908 was already in testing and seemed to come together as a fine piece of kit.
Regardless, the French board decided that enough was enough and the P1 program was canned before the 908-HY could turn a wheel in anger. This led the way to Toyota’s hurried entry into the WEC midway through 2012, one year earlier than originally intended.
2018 Peugeot 3008 DKR Maxi
This coming January, lovers of dirt-flavored racing will once again turn their attention to the Southern Hemisphere as the infamous Dakar Rally hits South America for the tenth year running. 2018 marks the 40th anniversary of the event, once again promising a grueling 10,000 km (6,214 miles) of racing over some of the most difficult terrain Mother Nature can produce. The outlined route will lead teams through Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina, challenging competitors with steep sand dunes, craggy boulder fields, twisting tarmac, and impossibly high mountain passes. This is one of the ultimate tests of man and machine, but Peugeot looks ready for anything. The French automaker took top honors in the Dakar earlier last year, giving it back-to-back victories between 2016 and 2017. Now, the French automaker is looking for a three-peat with this – the updated 3008 DKR Maxi. The “brand-new racing lion” might carry the same name as the road-going Peugeot 3008, but it’s far removed from what you get in dealers, bringing the heat thanks to a host of impressive motorsport cues courtesy of Peugeot Sport, all aimed at ultimate victory over terra firma.
The Peugeot 3008 DKR Maxi has undergone extensive testing in Morocco, Portugal, and France to prepare for the 2018 Dakar event, logging more than 18,000 test km (11,185 miles) over the past year. What’s more, Team Peugeot Total has once again assembled a dream team of talent for the driver’s roster, including names like Peterhansel, Loeb, Sainz, and Despres. Still – the Dakar is unpredictable at best. Will the new 3008 DKR once again have what it takes to snag another win?
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Relive Sebastien Loeb’s Record Run Up Pikes Peak: Video
In case you were unaware, the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is getting underway right this very second, and that means a whole swath of race-ready rides congregating in Colorado to take a swing at the 156 turns and high-altitude craziness that is America’s Mountain. And while simply getting to the top unscathed is in itself quite the accomplishment, some are vying to etch their names into the history books by beating the current standing record time of 8 minutes, 13.878 seconds, set back in 2013 by legendary rally champion Sebastien Loeb in a Peugeot 206 T16. But, as you might expect, such a feat is easier said than done, as evidenced by the above-featured video documenting every turn of Loeb’s incredible blitz to the clouds.
From the off, it’s clear Loeb is holding nothing back. The same talent that earned him an unprecedented nine World Rally Championship titles is very much on display, as is his incredible bravery as he uses every inch of pavement, even with nothing more than heart-stopping drops in place to greet him should he muck it up. The video combines a multitude of camera angles, including a passenger seat POV, in-car shots, bumper shots, and helicopter shots, providing the viewer with a fantastic overview. Also of note is just how clean the run is, with very little in terms of sliding or corrections. Will 2017 be the year Loeb’s record falls? By the look of it – probably not.
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