This is the great return of the lion brand on the mythical circuit of Sarthe for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the start of the centenary edition of which will be given this Saturday at 4 p.m. After twelve years of absence, Peugeot Sport aligns this weekend its two 9X8 Hypercar with multicolored reflections and devoid of rear wing. In a championship outrageously dominated by the two Toyota Gazoo Racing, the French team, in competition with Porsche, Ferrari, and other Cadillac, will above all seek to make its car more reliable, while waiting for better.
In three events, the two cars n° 93 and 94 alternated good and bad results: 31st and 32nd places at Sebring, 7th and 5th at Portimao, and 14th and 17th at Spa. “We weren’t up to speed in terms of performance and reliability at Sebring, not having had the opportunity to test the machines on the track, acknowledges Olivier Jansonnie, technical director of Peugeot Sport. In the following two races, especially Portimao, we managed to demonstrate the qualities of the car and the team. »
Since the start of the project nearly three years ago, the 9X8 hasn’t stopped evolving, and that’s only to be expected. Launched at Monza last July, it then left its rubber on the tracks of the 6 hours of Fuji and the 8 hours of Bahrain. It is therefore his 7th race this weekend: “The learning curve is sometimes a little tricky, explains Olivier Jansonnie. The level is difficult and we thought we would learn faster. »
In 10th and 11th positions on the starting grid
Like any new student, Peugeot has still not found its place in the 1st row. But the Sochaux firm works a lot and learns its lesson well: “Our target being reliability, a problem already noted last year, we drove a lot. Since Sebring, progress has been made on the transmission and the hybrid system. We have made technical choices that are different from our competitors, especially on the tyres. Circuits with a lot of low speed boosts are more difficult for us. »
With its 13 km circumference and its endless straights, Le Mans could put a smile on the face of the French team: “There are types of difficulties here that do not exist anywhere else, in addition to the anxiety of discovery, continues the technical director. Since the beginning of the tests, we find our strengths and our weaknesses and try to collect as much information as possible to fill in all the boxes of the grid. On such a track, the lap differences vary enormously between teams. The race will be tough and conducted at a very high pace. At the moment, we seem to be in the right place. »
On the starting grid, the Peugeot 9×8 n°93, driven by Di Resta, Jensen, Vergne, Vandoorne, will start in 10th position, just ahead of the Peugeot 9×8 n°94 (Duval, Menezes, Müller).
In a century, Peugeot’s 24-hour record is average. Certainly, with 3 victories, we are very far from Porsche (19), Audi (13), Ferrari (9), and Jaguar (7), but the brand has only 12 participations. Present in 1926, 1937 and 38, it returned in 1991 before winning the following year with the 905, driven by the Dalmas/Blundell/Warwick trio, before an extraordinary hat-trick the following year, then an anecdotal presence in 1996. Peugeot returns to the Sarthe in 2007 to present its magnificent 908 HDI, which will accumulate places of honor for five years, including a double in 2009. We won’t be asking for so much this year.
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