For the better part of four seasons, the Peugeot 908 HDi FAP was the dominant sports racer. During that period, rival Audi fielded three different cars, none of which were able to match the V12-engined Peugeot on pace. Unfortunately for the French team, they only managed to convert the speed advantage in one victory in the all-important 24 Hours of Le Mans out of four attempts. Rule changes ahead of the 2011 season, forced both manufacturers to start with a clean slate.
The most significant change was a considerable reduction of the displacement limits in the top 'LMP1' class. For the diesel engines favoured by both Peugeot and Audi, exactly a third was cut off with the limit dropping from 5.5 to 3.7 litre. For Peugeot the most obvious solution was to cut four cylinders off the existing V12. At first glance, it appeared that this was just what the French manufacturer did. While many of the lessons learned racing the V12 for four seasons were incorporated in the new V8, it was actually a brand new design.
Like the V12, Peugeot's eight cylinder engine was constructed from lightweight aluminium alloys. A big difference was the slightly narrower 90-degree cylinder angle. The compact V8 was equipped with twin turbochargers, direct fuel injection and particulate filters. With the mandatory restrictors fitted, it produced in excess of 550 bhp. The engine was mated to an all-new six-speed gearbox actuated by paddles behind the steering wheel. It differed from the existing design in that it featured a carbon fibre casing.
Further confusing the casual observer, Peugeot once again used the '908' type name and equipped the car with an evolution of the original LMP1 racer's aero package. Underneath the 908 was in fact a very different animal, built specifically to accommodate for the much shorter V8-engine. Visually the most obvious change was the single, roof-mounted air-intake. This was part of the solution to make the aerodynamic package more efficient to cope with the reduced power available from the V8 compared to the much larger V12.
Peugeot's engineers fired up the new V8 engine late in January of 2010 and the first car was ready for testing in the summer. Some of the advantage of this head-start over Audi was lost following two big accidents during testing. Peugeot was nevertheless ready to field two cars in the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup season opener at Sebring, where Audi used a de-tuned version of their 2010 car. Small issues during the '12 Hours' prevented the Peugeot from winning straight out of the box. The day was saved by a privately entered 908 HDi FAP.
By the second round, the Spa 1000 km, Audi was also ready to field their new 'R18 TDI'. It was the German manufacturer's first coupe prototype in over a decade and powered a single turbo V6, it was significantly different compared to the 908. Serving as a dress-rehearsal for Le Mans, Peugeot and Audi fielded three cars each. In practice and qualifying the R18 looked like the superior package but the 908 impressed during the race, clinching a one-two victory. Peugeot once again headed to Le Mans as the favourites.
In qualifying the Peugeots and Audis were closer than ever before but ultimately Frenchman Benoit Treluyer spoiled the French party by clinching Audi's first pole since Peugeot's return to Le Mans. Early in the race, the Audis surprisingly gradually pulled away. Two big crashes eliminated all but one of the R18s before midnight but the Peugeot team were unable to take advantage of the numerical advantage. In one of the closest finishes, the sole surviving Audi managed to beat the second placed 908 by just 13 seconds.
In a repeat of the previous season's results, the Peugeot team bounced back from the painful defeat at Le Mans by dominating the remaining rounds of the ILMC. Peugeot finished the season as champions but the big price eluded them once again. In the final months of the year, the team started testing a hybrid version of the 908 in preparation for the new season. First shown to the public at Geneva back in March, the '908 HYbrid4' featured an additional 80 bhp electric motor.
Unfortunately, we will most likely never know how the hybrid 908 would have stacked up against Audi's and Toyota's hybrids as in January of 2012 Peugeot suspended its endurance racing program with immediate effect due to financial problems. At the time of the shock announcement, the team's mechanics were already in Sebring preparing for a test session. Despite winning five of the seven races it competed in, the Peugeot 908 will be remembered as an unfulfilled promise, much like its equally successful predecessor.
I went to Le Mans in 2010 and witnessed the battle between Audi and Peugeot that year. It was the same story as other years at Le Mans: Peugeot with superior pace but after increbible bad luck unable to fulfill their homewin. Despite being a french team, they never got to understand the race as Audi does.
It is very sad seeing them pulling the plug on racing, but Audi vs Peugeot rivalty will be remembered as part of the Le Mans history, and the 908 as one of the fastest and most beautiful machines ever to race there.
what a shame!
this is a sad time for Peugeot.
we were really looking forward to the encredible DIESEL race cars at the Sebring track, even if they were banned by idiots,from the actual race.
some time back at Daytona track,they were on there way to Sebring, wouldnt let them unload the trailers for just showing in the show areas.
talk about evil politics.
now we have a true F1 track under construction(circuit of the americas),Austin TX, and lot of ill rumors have started.
will ALMS race here??? will they let Diesels race here??
Ron in Daytona/Austin.
If its not broken, don't throw a wrench at it.
Since the design of the original 908 HDi FAP was good, there was no need for an extensive redesign on the 90X. @Skatawes: The car is turbocharged; the roof intake does not mean it lacks turbos (think Toyota's gt-one TS020 with its roof intake and twin-turbo V8). Everyone seems to be copying Nick Wirth's swan-neck wing pillars and rear-spec tires up-front. Looking forward to seeing the diesel coupes battling it out!