Peugeot’s diesel ground-splitting Le Mans winner

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.

2008 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP Le Mans Prototype Exterior

2008 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP Le Mans Prototype
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The Peugeot 908 HDI FAP exhibits the then-current trends of building a prototype Le Mans racer. It featured a closed-top construction for better aerodynamics, an F1-style elevated nose at the front, and a massive diffuser sticking out at the back coupled with a wing rising high on two struts. While it’s nothing particularly innovative going on with the design of the 908, the French manufacturer produced a car that was in every way capable to topple the dominance of Audi who’d been the benchmark in endurance racing for over half a decade by that point.

The whole building process of the 908 was led by Bruno Famin who started working on the project in late 2005.

Paolo Catone was drafted in to lead the design department, Guillaume Cattelani was in charge with everything aero-related while the work on the chassis fell into the hands of Jean-Marc Schmit’s team. The diesel engine was the brainchild of Claude Guillois and his men. By Spring of 2006, Peugeot already decided that they were going to take a different approach compared to Audi and would make the 908 a closed-top prototype, in contrast with the open-top R8 and R10 that were Audi’s weapons of choice at the time.

The first full-scale prototype of the upcoming car was presented in October 2006 at the Paris Motor Show. While it differed to the finished product, the basic design ideas were in place. The finished product made its first public appearance at Paul Ricard in late March of 2007 during the official pre-season test sessions at Paul Ricard. There, the new 908 was quickest of all, but Audi wasn’t on hand.

2008 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP Le Mans Prototype
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However, the car that was auctioned off by RM/Sotheby’s, which is chassis number 5 out of just 9 built, features a different aerodynamic kit to the car from 2007.

Up front, the nose, which gets narrower from the end of the bulkhead to its tip just above the edge of the splitter, is raised on two curved struts and there’s a small air duct right on the pointed end. It supposedly aids cooling of the power steering system. The lifted nose design was used to help the splitter do its job.

The car as seen today is fitted with the Le Mans-specific low-downforce aerodynamic package.

Up front, this is noticeable due to the fact that the ducts on either side of the nose are covered up by some panels that direct the air over the suspension and not through it like on the high-downforce setup. There are, though, two air inlets that open up next to the wheel arches on both sides of the front fascia. Another element that makes it clear that the car has the low-downforce package is the presence of only one set of winglets on the edges of the front bodywork, instead of two which is how the car appeared on the more technical race tracks.

The wheel arches themselves aren’t the sleekest you’ll ever see and that’s primarily because the 908 employs some huge rubber at the front as well. The fenders, which extend back to follow the line of the monocoque’s sidepods, feature louvers at the top for both cooling and added downforce. The water-droplet-shaped external rear-view mirrors are placed aft of the fender louvers. The Hawkeye-like headlights are placed on the fenders. The shape of the headlight units was changed as the years went by, the car displaying the 2010-spec setup.

2008 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP Le Mans Prototype
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When viewing the car from its side, you can see there’s an opening between the fender itself and the monocoque to allow the air to follow its path out. The sidepods on either side feature some louvered air vents for the water coolers that are placed inside.

You’ll notice that the bodywork just before the rear wheel arch curves upwards then blend back with the wheel arch.

That’s because the two large-size circular ducts placed on the bodywork can raise no more than 7.8 inches compared to the rest of the bodywork around. Peugeot wanted them to stick higher up, so they raised the bodywork itself around that particular area, quite ingenious.

The sleek bodywork covering the cockpit is actually very narrow, measuring just 31.4 inches wide at the base. Supposedly, ACO requires these cars to be two-seaters which is why open-top prototypes at the time had to have two roll hoops. It’s unlikely that anyone can actually sit in the passenger compartment of the 908 but, then again, it’s a French car that had to pass the rules drawn out by a French organization, so they strained through.

You actually enter the car through the side windows by climbing on the bodywork then jumping inside. For safety reasons, the drivers were required to complete ingress or egress in just 7 seconds. It would take us, regular people, minutes, if we did manage to get in at all.

2008 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP Le Mans Prototype
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The bodywork over the cockpit actually gets narrower behind the driver and also lowers to the point it blends with the rear deck. This is all in an attempt to direct air to the rear wing. The rear wing itself is narrower than the original 78.7 inches-wide design due to some changes in regulations that mandated the maximum rear wing width at just 63 inches. It features a higher angle of attack compared to the original wing as a way to reduce some of the downforce losses that came about due to the narrower wing. In exchange, the wing endplates are larger.

The tail of the 908 curves upwards towards its trailing edge which, on some tracks, is fitted with a Gurney flap that runs all the way across the rear.

The rear fender itself is also narrower at the back and is squared off in shape. The taillights are actually fitted to carbon fiber extensions of the lower outer bodywork which look like mud flaps of sorts. There isn’t, otherwise, much going on at the back, the whole bodywork opening up huge holes across its width.

2008 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP Le Mans Prototype
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Since the car as seen here features most of the updates applied to the 908 HDI FAP over time, the rear section including the wing, are made out of carbon fiber. Earlier on, the wing struts were made out of aluminum as well as much of the detachable rear section.

The car, as seen in the pictures, is dressed in the 2010 Peugeot Sport Total works livery which, although nice, is incorrect.

The car ran under the factory colors between 2008 and 2009 but spent its last year of active racing in the hands of ORECA which ran a multi-colored livery thanks to their Matmut sponsor.

2008 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP Le Mans Prototype Interior

2008 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP Le Mans Prototype
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The cramped interior of the 908 is not overly complicated and has two core centers of interest: the steering wheel and the knob stack on driver’s left.

The steering is covered in a multitude of knobs which control such functions as the traction control – which has eight levels of ‘interference’ – or the engine mode with eight maps available, the 8th presumably only useful in qualifying. You also have the high-beam button, the team radio button, a button that changes what’s being displayed on the digital micro-screen located in the middle of the steering wheel and a boost button which is self-explanatory (no, it’s not NOS, though). You get rev lights at the top of the carbon-fiber wheel and some flappy paddles to shift through the six-speed gearbox. You can also control the brake bias without taking your hands off the wheel.

The knob stack on driver’s left controls other features that are not that important to the driver like the main switch, another wiper switch, the pit speed limiter switch, the A/C knob and a yellow button for reverse, among others.

2008 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP Le Mans Prototype
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Cold or hot air fills up the cockpit rapidly thanks to a heavy-duty fan in the middle of the cockpit which is tilted in such a way that it blows air right in your face as you sit in that molded bucket seat.

One thing you won’t notice unless you get behind the wheel of one of these prototypes is how narrow a vision you get looking ahead. For starters, the A-pillar is very thick and then there are the tall front wheel arches that block some of the vision. What’s more, you don’t sit particularly close to the sloping windshield so one can imagine how difficult it must’ve been to tackle multi-class racing which is defined by traffic management in this car. The open-top Audi, on the other hand, offered unimpeded visibility ahead.

2008 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP Le Mans Prototype Drivetrain

2008 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP Le Mans Prototype
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The 5.5-liter DOHC diesel V-12 is the pounding heart of the Peugeot 908.

Like Audi, Peugeot decided to go with a 12-cylinder architecture for their diesel engine, the cylinders sitting at a 100-degree angle to lower the engine’s center of gravity.

The engine on this car features the latest carbon fiber intake plenums with a swirl pattern across them. They are there to act as a continuation of the intake trumpets which, in this way, were kept shorter to minimize the height of the rear bodywork that covers the engine.

The engine is fitted with a pair of turbochargers and Bosch common-rail fuel injection. It breathes through two air intake restrictors put in place to limit the car’s performance; The Balance of Performance (BoP) was in place even back then as the ACO tried in vain to create a level playing field between the gas-powered prototypes and the diesel-powered ones. The ECU is also by Bosch.

The longitudinally-mounted 6-speed transmission at the back has a multi-plate cerametallic clutch. As expected, the 908 comes with a limited-slip differential and power steering. The exhaust system was equipped with a particulate filter to make the huge diesel more eco-friendly. Which is something very ironic to say in the light of the Dieselgate scandal.

2008 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP Le Mans Prototype
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Suspension is by independent double wishbones front and rear with pushrods and torsion bars with adjustable dampers. The two-circuit hydraulic brakes are made up of carbon fiber discs with alloy calipers and are almost 15 inches wide up front and almost 14 inches wide at the back. They sit behind 18-inch magnesium wheels made by BBS.

It’s not clear how powerful the 908 was, because the ACO kept changing the size of the air intake restrictors.

It’s safe to say that, in race trim, the V-12 pushed out over 700-horsepower with some sources stating that the figure was close to 1,000-horsepower when the engine was “unhinged” for qualifying.

The torque figure was close to 900 pound-feet. That’s almost one pound-feet of torque for every kilogram the car weighed. To be precise, the car weighed around 2,072 pounds which is about 940 kilograms.

2008 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP Le Mans Prototype Pricing

2008 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP Le Mans Prototype
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Old race cars may seem useless as technology and regulations moved on, but many collectors and vintage racers are interested in such machinery. The 908, along with its Audi arch-rival, was the pinnacle of the diesel era and, as such, is a very sought-after model. It’s also very rare with only nine chassis ever made between 2007 and 2009. A few other Porsche 908s were subsequently built for the 2011 regulations, but those lost the “HDI FAP” designation from their name and are simply referred to as Peugeot 908s.

The 908 we see here, chassis #05, was built for the 2008 season and was, at the time of its sale, in Monaco in 2016, only the second Peugeot of its kind to appear at a public auction.

It was slated to sell for anywhere between $1,300,000 and $1,800,000, so that’s the ballpark you’re looking at when looking to acquire a 908. But you’ve also got to add to that the extensive running costs and servicing costs as the car must be shipped to Peugeot Sport themselves for a careful check-up periodically.

Now, obviously, the price of any race car depends on its racing record and whether or not it was involved in a tub-damaging crash during its lifetime. This particular car wasn’t crashed and racked up a few wins in its three seasons of racing.

It debuted at the 2008 Le Mans 24 Hours race where, thanks to heavy rain, Audi produced a massive upset victory. This car, driven by former F1 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve, Nicolas Minassian, and Marc Gene, was runner-up after starting from third overall. It recorded another second place after starting from pole in the Nurburgring 1,000-kilometer race being beaten to the flag by its sister car.

Minassian and Gene were put together up again for the Silverstone round of the ELMS, but the duo crashed out, and the car reemerged next year for the 12 Hours of Sebring in Florida. There, the car was classified 5th although mechanical gremlins meant that it didn’t actually see the checkered flag.

However, at the Petit Le Mans event that capped off the 2009 ALMS season, the No. 08 driven by Franck Montagny and Stephane Sarrazin broke through and claimed victory in the wet.

After that, the Peugeot was sold to ORECA, Hugues Du Chaunac’s outfit which became a partner of the Peugeot program. Nicolas Lapierre, Stephane Sarrazin, and Olivier Panis steered chassis #05 to a debut victory when it first appeared in the ELMS, in July 2010 at the Algarve 1000-kilometer race. Another runner-up finish was on the cards for this chassis, in the ILMC/ELMS Silverstone round, before it was retired and ORECA switched to chassis #10 for 2011.

2008 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP Le Mans Prototype Competition

Audi R10 TDI

2006 Audi R10
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The Audi R10 was the world’s first successful diesel-powered Le Mans prototype. It awed crowds at the 2006 Sebring 12 Hours where it first showed up and grabbed the victory. It then recorded three straight Le Mans 24 Hours wins, benefitting from Peugeot’s misfortunes in 2007 and 2008. However, elsewhere, the R10 showed its weaknesses in its second and third seasons of competition.

The Peugeot proved the better car in Europe during 2008, when they raced head-to-head in the ELMS, while Porsche and Acura HPD often had the better of it in 2007 and 2008 in the ALMS. Still, it was the pole-bearer for Audi in LMP1 until it was replaced by the R15 in 2009. Peugeot also battled the latter but its widely regarded that the R10 was the better car. It was also powered by a twin-turbocharged 5.5-liter V-12 that produced around 700-horsepower. The R10 weighed about 2,040 pounds.

Read our full review on the 2006 Audi R10 TDI

Lola Aston-Martin DBR1-2

2009 Aston Martin LMP1 Car
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It’s only fair to mention a gas-powered LMP1 car when talking about the 908s rivals on the track. The Lola Aston-Martin, which debuted in 2009, was a vastly modified version of Lola’s own LMP1-spec prototype, the B09/60. It was so good that, when the AMR-One open-top prototype turned out to be a huge farce at Le Mans in 2011, Aston-Martin Racing actually reverted to using the AMR1-2 until they retired from prototype competition at the end of 2011.

The Lola chassis, just like the Peugeot, featured an enclosed honeycomb monocoque, but power came from a naturally-aspirated 6.0-liter V-12. The car was successful straight out of the box winning at Barcelona on its debut as the Peugeots did not show up. Further down the road, the Aston-Martin was the “best of the rest” at Le Mans in 2009 with a 4th place finish and won again overall in the Nurburgring 1,000-kilometer race that year. It’s worth noting that, while the Aston-Martin wasn’t able to beat the Peugeot when Peugeot Sport did show up, they did beat the privately-entered Audi R10s that raced in the ELMS in 2009 and 2010 and won the ELMS title in 2009.

The Lola Aston-Martin proved to be a force to be reckoned with in the ALMS, team Muscle Milk Pickett Racing winning three times in 2011 but ultimately missing out on the title which went the way of Dyson Racing who ran stock Lola cars. The car developed upwards of 650-horsepower and 770 pound-feet of torque which reached the back wheels through a 6-speed XTrac transmission.

Read our full review on the Lola Aston-Martin DBR1-2

Final Thoughts

2008 Peugeot 908 HDi FAP Le Mans Prototype
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The Peugeot 908 HDI FAP is one of the most amazing prototype racing cars of the noughties. It is the car that scored Peugeot’s last (to date) Le Mans victory, and it was the car that proved Audi wasn’t unbeatable after years of dominance with the R8.

While some argue that modern prototypes such as the 908 are essentially ugly compared to older closed-top prototypes from the Group C era, they start to look better as they age, especially since the prototypes we see today in the FIA WEC are uglier still.

  • Leave it
    • Massively expensive to buy
    • Complicated to run and maintain if you don’t own a race team
    • Only eligible for vintage racing events

Further reading

2008 Peugeot 908 HY
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Read our full review on the 2008 Peugeot 908 HY.

2011 Peugeot 908 HYbrid4 LMP1 Racecar Exterior
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Read our full review on the 2011 Peugeot 908 HYbrid4 LMP1 Racecar.

2007 Peugeot 908 V12 HDI
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Read our full review on the 2007 Peugeot 908 V12 HDI.

Special thanks to mulsannescorner

Source: RM Sothebys

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