|WM P88 Peugeot|
In their spare time Peugeot engineers Gerard Welter and Michel Meunier established WM in the late 1960s. In 1976, the team debuted at Le Mans with a Peugeot-engined GTP racer. Staffed by volunteers, the cars produced by the small squad faired remarkably well in the following years. Due to the ever increasing competition, WM struggled to maintain competitiveness in the Group C era.
After the 1986 edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Welter and Meunier decided to concentrate their limited resources on achieving a single goal; breaking the 400 km/h barrier on Le Mans' long 'Mulsanne Straight'. As with all previous WM Le Mans racers, the new 'Project 400' car was a further development of the original design that had served the team so well.
Known as the P87, WM's 1987 racer featured the familiar aluminium monocoque chassis with a central backbone section. To achieve the ambitious objective a new body was created, which was considerably wider than the original so a new nose-box and side-pods had to be added to existing chassis. Like the chassis, the all-round independent suspension was very conventional.
One of the reasons why Welter and Meunier had been so successful was the backdoor support from their employer in the form of the 'PRV' engine. This V6 was continuously developed and by 1987, it displaced just over 2.8 litre and was fitted with two turbochargers. Depending on the level of boost, the road car derived engine could produce as much as 850 bhp.
Peugeot opened their wind-tunnel on Sundays during a four month period for the WM team to develop the new shape. Key in the design was the increased width, which enabled the wheels to be almost completely encased, significantly lowering drag. The team also found an intriguing solution for the intercoolers; nose-mounted intakes fed the fresh air through ducts mounted under the front suspension.
Group C cars were capable of such high top speeds as they relied on ground effect aerodynamics to produce the required downforce. To further improve the ground effect efficiency, the P87 featured an extended wheelbase, allowing for longer tunnels. The car did feature a front splitter and a rear wing but these were used almost exclusively as balancing tools.
Engine management issues severely hampered WM's preparations but despite not being able to run for two consecutive laps, the P87 was timed at 356 km/h during the Le Mans Test. With the problems solved, the new WM reached 416 km/h on a new section of highway that was not yet open to the public. The Peugeot-engined machine looked set to shatter the record at Le Mans.
Unfortunately the race was a very short affair for the WM P87 as the fuel supplied was of a very low grade, causing the engine to cease after just 13 laps. By that time the car had been clocked by the official ACO speed trap at 381 km/h. This was still short of the objective but nevertheless a new record. Interestingly, according to WM's own radar the P87 had actually peaked at 407 km/h.
Encouraged by the speed shown in 1987, the small squad constructed a new car for 1988, which differed only in detail. Among the changes was a slightly larger engine, now good for 900 bhp at peak boost, and a revised rear suspension to allow for even bigger tunnels. Alongside the new P88, the team also fielded the P87, fitted with the same upgrades.
During the practice session, the ACO radar clocked the new car at 387 km/h, which still seemed slower than the P88's actual speed. A newer radar system was installed but early problems seemed to rule both cars out from making a new attempt. The updated P87 was officially retired after just 13 laps with a transmission failure and the P88 suffered from both engine management and bodywork issues.
After sitting stationary for over three and a half hours in the pits, the P88 was sent back out with Roger Dorchy behind the wheel. After a few laps, he was told to turn up the boost and he crossed the radar point at over 400 km/h for several laps. Although the fastest run was 407 km/h, the official figure was set at 405 km/h as the race coincided with the launch of the new Peugeot 405.
Running at maximum boost combined with the earlier problems saw the P88 return to the pits soon after and it was eventually retired after the electrical, cooling and turbo issues could not be sorted. The overheating has since often been attributed to the car running with taped up ducts but the people involved are adamant that the only change to the car was the increased boost level.
Both the P87 and P88 were brought out once more for the 1989 edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans but various problems prevented the cars from starring in the race. This was the final outing for WM as the two partners split at the end of the year. Welter continued to race at Le Mans with his newly formed WR team. In 1990 two chicanes were added to the long straight, ensuring that the P88 will most likely forever hold the record.
Article by Wouter Melissen, last updated on July 05, 2012
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