Peugeot has confirmed the date for the maiden voyage of its new 9X8 Le Mans hypercar. The company will enter two identical cars in the six hours of Monza race on the 10th July, jumping into the middle of this year’s World Endurance Championship.
Peugeot has also confirmed that it’ll enter the 9X8 in the 2023 Le Mans 24 Hour race. The company missed the deadline for this year’s event (which takes place between the 11th and 12th June) as it was still developing the car. The brand says these final tweaks were vital to “hone the hypercar’s reliability and performance.”
The 9X8 sparks Peugeot’s return to endurance racing – and the company hopes its new competitor will pick up where the 905 and 908 left off. The former racer won the 1992 and 1993 Le Mans 24 Hour races, while the latter enjoyed several victories throughout the WEC series in the late 2000s.
Peugeot CEO Linda Jackson insists that a return to endurance racing is exactly what her company needs, from both an engineering and a marketing perspective. She says the racing series is the perfect R&D lab for new hybrid technology and an ideal stage on which to parade Peugeot’s “excellence in hybridisation and combustion.”
Jackson said: “Peugeot’s participation in the FIA World Endurance Championship is further evidence of the brand’s ingenuity and longstanding passion for motorsport. It will also play a role in the essential transfer of technology from the race track to our road-going vehicles, particularly in the field of electrification.
“To illustrate how serious we are about energy transition, Peugeot has committed to electrifying its entire model range by 2024. What’s more, if we are to achieve our target of being electric-only in Europe by 2030, we know we need to excel in this domain, and motor racing is crucial to this objective.”
What’s powering the Peugeot 9X8?
It’s a hybrid system. There’s a 697bhp twin-turbocharged 2.6-litre V6 engine powering the rear wheels and 268bhp electric motor driving the fronts. Peugeot also tells us that the 9X8’s hybrid system has been developed using expertise gained from its road cars – and that the knowledge gained from this racing project will be fed back into its production vehicles.
Jackson says this two-way engineering exchange is already well underway. “Even before the Peugeot 9X8 makes its race debut,” she said, “the programme’s engineers have already carried over its hybrid system to one of our road cars – the Peugeot 508 Sport Engineered. And other examples are similarly in the pipeline.”
Peugeot pieced together the 9X8’s powertrain with help from Saft and Total Energies. The former company provided a 900-volt battery pack to power the electric motor, while the latter has developed a 100% renewable fuel to power the petrol engine, made from wine residues. Total says the fuel will account for a 65% reduction in the 9X8’s CO2 emissions.
So the 9X8 has almost 1,000bhp, right?
Wrong. The new WEC rules restrict the car’s output to 500kW (around 670bhp) at all times. That means, when the 200kW electric motor is engaged, the petrol engine can produce no more than 300kW. Further rules dictate that the electric motor can only be engaged above 74.6mph – except in the pits, where speed is restricted to just 37.2mph.
If that wasn’t complicated enough, there’s a further rule that allows the combustion portion of the hypercar’s hybrid powertrain to produce 515kW (691bhp). However, this is only allowed at the end of the straights, when the battery has been depleted.
Like an F1 car’s hybrid system, the Peugeot 9X8’s electric motor features an energy recuperation system that tops the battery up with electricity each time the driver steps on the brake pedal. The friction brakes are another innovation, as there’s no physical connection between the pedal and the discs – it’s completely fly by wire.
What about the mad styling?
Striking, isn’t it? Especially considering how faithful the car’s design has adhered to the concept that Peugeot unveiled in July 2021. It’s usual for manufacturers to attach aggressive aero appendages to their racing concepts during the run-up to the race in an effort to extract every scrap of performance from the platform – but not Peugeot.
The 9X8 has a deep front splitter, but it does without a lairy rear spoiler. Peugeot’s engineers found the car didn’t need one, as it features some clever ducting underneath its bodywork which allows it to reach the required downforce level without a wing.
Peugeot also made a conscious effort to make the 9X8 fit its current road car design language, so it would be recognisable on track. So, it features similar tiger claw daytime running lights, a similar radiator grille and the kindred tri-bar tail lights as road-going vehicles such as the 308 and 508.
What will the Peugeot 9X8 be up against?
Plenty of rivals. The next two years will be an interesting time for endurance racing with the new rules attracting a lot of manufacturers to the series, despite their prescriptivism. Toyota is in, Glickenhaus is back and Ferrari has an entry planned for 2023. Lamborghini will also join the more affordable LMDh Hypercar class in 2024.
Part of the appeal is also the chance to win the 100th anniversary Le Mans 24 Hours race, which will take place in 2023. This is also partly why Peuegot hasn’t pushed too hard to get the 9X8 on the grid this year – it’d rather make sure the car is as competitive as it can be, and then give the centenary race its best shot.