The Peugeot racing team is at home in Le Mans. He already won three overall victories in the most famous endurance car in the world (1992 and 1993 with a special 905 Evo 1 Bis, 2009 with a diesel pancake 908 HDi FAP) and his bitter battles with Audi between 2007 and 2011 (where the French were a little less lucky) were to the best that the modern twenty-four hours of Le Mans has experienced. That’s why there was great glory when Peugeot decided to return to the series of endurance races in 2022.
But so far it is not a very glorious return, as evidenced by rather below-average results. Of course, the racing team was created completely again on a green field (after all, they are returning to the tracks after a ten-year break and immediately into the top league), so they are still gathering experience and data (this year’s Monza was the first race where they already had telemetry data from the previous year and they could fine-tune their cars), but the biggest problem is somewhere else – in the car.
The hybrid special 9X8 attracted attention immediately upon its introduction. Not only because it is really beautiful, but mainly because it was completely missing a rear wing, i.e. a fundamental aerodynamic element generating absolutely necessary downforce for racing cars. Peugeot engineers generate that in the lower part of the car with a modified floor, so during tests in the wind tunnel they found that they did not need the rear wing at all (which brought a number of practical advantages). But they miscalculated…
What works in the lab environment may not work on the real track – and this is exactly the case. Because of the high pressure, the asphalt would have to be as smooth as a mirror and the floor of the car would have to be literally sucked to it. But the surface of even the smoothest tracks is slightly wavy and there are various bumps on it (not to mention the American Sebring, which is jumpy like the concrete D1 before Brno used to be), with which the suspension has to work – and so that the car does not “rub its belly on the ground” (which again spoils the mechanical grip), the ground clearance must be higher and the aerodynamic effect of the floor is lost.
Peugeot engineers (as well as the Mercedes-AMG F1 team at the moment) simply went in the wrong direction and now admit their mistakes – they want to significantly overhaul the 9X8 hypersport over the winter break and finally give it a wing, which should solve most of the problems with the lack of speed. The FIA has fairly strict limits on modification options, but in this case the greater scope of Peugeot’s improvements will allow them to increase the competition and not lose the disappointing French team.
It follows that next season we can look forward to even bigger battles for victory in the races. So far, Toyota and Ferrari are fighting each other the most, but Porsche and Cadillac are breathing down their backs and other predators are already grinding their teeth. This year’s WEC season ends on November 4 with the eight-hour race in Bahrain, a twisty and smooth modern track where Peugeot could do well (they finished fourth last year), anyway, next season we will hopefully catch them in even better shape.
But if you miss the graceful shapes of the Peugeot 9X8, you can at least buy it as a LEGO model, which will forever remind you how beautiful it was without the wing.