Le Mans is located in the heart of France, but the city's annual 24 Hours marathon has traditionally been the playing field of the British, Italians and Germans. In the last fifty years only Matra, Rondeau and Peugeot managed to score a win for France and the last dates back to 1993. In the Friday before the 2006 24 Hours race, Peugeot revealed the first details of their plan to bring the coveted trophy home to France. Most of those details described the engine to be used; a diesel V12. Two days later Audi scored the first ever diesel win at Le Mans with a similar powerplant, so Peugeot were reassured they chose the right configuration, but also knew they had their work cut out for them. Three months later the wraps were taken off a full scale mock-up of the 908 racer, and four days after the European endurance racing finished for the season, we were already looking forward to 2007.
The heart of the new car is the engine, which is a custom developed 100 degree V12 engine, running on diesel. It uses the latest common rail induction technology, already used by many road going products of PSA Peugeot Citroen. The 100 degree V-angle is somewhat unusual, but does offer a lower center gravity, which could be very useful considering diesel engines' relatively high weight. Like the Audi engine, the Peugeot V12 is built to the maximum allowed displacement of 5.5 litre. Breathing through two restrictors and boosted by two Garrett Turbos the engine is predicted to produce 700 bhp and in excess of 1200 Nm torque. Once rushed through the Turbos, the exhaust fumes go through particulate filters to extensively lower emissions and silence the engine. PSA have been at the forefront of the particulate filter technology some years now and today the filters are standard equipment on almost all their road going diesels.
When the Le Mans organizers and rule makers, the Automobile Club de l'Ouest (ACO) drew up the current LMP1 and LMP2 prototype regulations, they had the great foresight to allow both open and closed racers. In the previous set of regulations there was an option for closed cars, but it was not really a viable option and only Bentley ever fielded such a fixed head car. In the ACO's current set of regulations the closed cars' extra complexity are compensated with larger restrictors and there are plans to restrict the top class to closed cars only from 2010. At Paris we found out that the Peugeot 908 HDi will be the very first closed LMP1 to materialize, but there are already others on drawing boards all over Europe. Several of the current open cars, supposedly including the Audi R10, are designed to be easily converted to closed top configuration. Judging from the Paris mock-up, the great days of closed top prototype racing will be relived once more in the very near future.
Early in 2006, Peugeot introduced a fully working version of the new Le Mans racer. Although there were similarities to the styling model on display in Paris, they were outnumbered by the differences. Further changes are expected to be carried through before the 908 will make its competition debut. More specifications were also revealed, including the mention of a six speed gearbox; one up on the Audi. The driver line-up was also presented with Canadian Jacques Villeneuve and triple-CART champ Sebastien Bourdais as the most prominent names. If all goes according to plan, two 908s will be raced in the Le Mans Series by Nicolas Minassian, Pedro Lamy, Marc Gene and Stephane Sarrazin, who at Le Mans will be joined by the two high-profile drivers.
After almost 5000 km of private testing, the semi-painted Peugeot was first pitched against serious opposition during the annual test days on the Paul Ricard High Tech Test Track in the south of France. The big question of course was wether it could match the competition in terms of speed and reliability. The former was easy to answer with a yes, but the latter was harder to establish as the car was in the heavily guarded pits more often than not. It was no doubt a promising (public) start for the French team, but it looked less likely that they would match the successful debut Audi's diesel engined R10 had one year earlier.
In the Le Mans Series, there was nothing that could touch the Peugeot throughout the season. At all six rounds the two Peugeots managed to lap up between two and three seconds faster than the closest competition. The semi-painted machines dominated on even the tightest tracks, which could not be said of the Audis in North America, which received a regular beating by the 'slower' LMP2 cars. It was not all good news for the French as at most races one car would be delayed with mechanical problems. It would take until the third race of the season before they recorded a one-two finish. Due to the reliability issues, the Le Mans Series championship was undecided until the final round in Brazil with the Pescarolo team still having a fighting chance. Peugeot made no mistake and with a one-two grabbed sufficient points.
The prospect of two Works teams dicing it out made the 2007 24 Hours of Le Mans one of the most highly anticipated in years. At the official pre-race test the expectations were met as the fastest time was clocked by a Peugeot. During qualifying the Peugeots were on top again, beating the closest petrol car by a whopping nine seconds. During the race, the tables were turned as the Audis were able to run consistently faster lap times; the frail French machines clearly focused on finishing the race rather than winning it. With only one car left, the pressure was once more on the Audi team towards the very wet finish of the race. They made no mistakes and the sole surviving Peugeot followed quite a few laps in arrear in second. Although the Peugeots did not win yet, another year of development will almost certainly bring them right up to Audi's level.
If you look at the 908 compared to the GT-One it doesn't take long to see that there is only a basic concept in common. Intake points are almost completely different and even the shape of the upper surfaces is completely at odds with each example. I wouldn't say the 908 looks better but it looks more purposeful.
while some people say it looks like a GT-One or Speed 8 clone, youve got to remember how just about every other Group C1 car in the 80s looked like the Porsche 956/962.....regardless, the 908 is definatly one of, if not the best looking car in the field currently. i definatly give them my best wishes for luck at Le 24h du Mans!
similar to the GT-One !!
True its the 1st big challenger to Audi Sport in years, but the car looks as a replica to the Toyota GT-One and also to the green Bentely EXP Speed 8, strang close prototype really look the same !!
anyway I hope that this new LMP-1 will chalenge the Audis, after a good start of season tn LMS