With Peugeot’s short, but very sweet announcement today, that they are set to return to sportscar racing’s top tier with a 2022/23 factory effort in the Hypercar class, it’s a good time to look back at their past involvement in the modern era.
There have been two major Peugeot factory-funded efforts, both seeing substantial racing success.
Peugeot 905: 1990-1993
Peugeot Talbot Sport boss Jean Todt, now, of course, the President of the FIA, announced the marque’s intention to compete at Le Mans in a new V10-powered prototype, dubbed the 905, and in the 1991 World Sportscar Championship, the first for the new rules which allowed the effectively F1-engined cars.
The car was unveiled in February 1990 and was developed throughout the year, making its racing debut in the final two races of the 1990 World Sportscar Championship season (Montréal and Mexico).
The first racing success came in the 1991 season, in the first race of the championship at Suzuka. That though was the last win before the late season races as the Peugeots were outpaced by the Jaguar XJR14. The 905s came on strong late in the season after the introduction of the heavily-upgraded 905B, with two more race wins, but too late to snatch the Championship from Jaguar’s grasp!
Le Mans that year saw both cars entered suffer mechanical dramas and fail to finish.
In 1992 though, again with the 905B, the tide turned. Five out of six races in the FIA World Sportscar Championship fell to Peugeot including the marque’s first win at Le Mans with Derek Warwick, Yannick Dalmas, and Mark Blundell. Both the drivers´ and teams´ title at the World Sportscar Championship would go to Peugeot in 1992.
However, the World Championship folded at the end of 1992, which meant that the heavily-updated 905 Evolution 2, dubbed the ‘Supercopter’, with massively uprated aerodynamics, went testing but never raced.
The race-proven 905B would race only once more, at Le Mans once again in 1993, the factory team completing a podium sweep. The win was taken by Geoff Brabham, Christophe Bouchut, and Éric Hélary.
By the end of its lifetime the Peugeot 905 had participated in 17 races, and remarkably, won nine of them.
Peugeot meanwhile took their V10 powerplant to Formula One, undoubtedly where the rule-makers intended them to go in the first place, and stayed there for seven seasons with McLaren, Jordan and Prost. The tradition of winning, built through the 905 programme, didn’t continue, with no wins to their credit before giving up the factory engine programme and switching to the World rally Championship in the 2000s, which proved to be a happier hunting ground!
Peugeot 908: 2007-2011
Peugeot announced that it would return to sportscars in 2006, the year that Audi debuted its revolutionary R10 TDI at Le Mans.
The V12 diesel engine for Peugeot’s new challenger was revealed at Le Mans, with the first 908 design concept revealed at the Paris Motorshow in September of the same year.
After an official launch just outside Paris and pre-season testing amidst huge media interest the factory team debuted the 5.5 litre V12-engined 908 HDi FAP in the opening round of the 2007 Le Mans Series at Monza.
With Audi sitting out the LMS season that year, the Peugeot won on its debut and, between the two factory cars, went on to win every race in the campaign.
Indeed the only race that Peugeot didn’t win that season was a rather important one, the Le Mans 24 Hours. Up against stiff opposition, Audi with a trio of proven R10s, a Peugeot would start the race from pole, but settle for second place. One car failed late in the race and the other staggered home after various issues.
2008 saw the team add Sebring to the schedule, where they were beaten by Audi in a race eventually won by a Penske-run LMP2 class Porsche RS Spyder. It kicked off arguably the most memorable season in the American Le Mans Series’ storied history.
Audi would then continue to foil Peugeot’s ambitions that season despite being beaten for the first time by a Peugeot in the opening Le Mans Series race at Barcelona. The 908s would go on to win all bar one race in the series, but would fail to win the title after a disastrous Silverstone season finale!
At Le Mans in 2008, Peugeot also had its hopes dashed. The 908s were far quicker than the R10s (in their final Le Mans appearance in factory hands), but overnight rain saw the pendulum swing against the Peugeot, Tom Kristensen taking back an advantage that the leading R10 TDI would keep to the flag.
During the aforementioned Silverstone 1000km meeting in 2008, Peugeot unveiled the 908 HY, a hybrid electric variant. It was demonstrated post-race with the capability of running the length of pit lane on KERS power with a 60kw electric motor that produced 20 seconds of power to conserve fuel on pit lane. The systems added 45kg to the weight of the standard 908 HDi FAP.
2009 saw Peugeot contest just four races, and win all but one, the 12 Hours of Sebring, where a close race went the way of Audi’s debuting R15. A one-off appearance in the Le Mans Series at Spa saw Peugeot win before a steamroller effort at Le Mans. A 1-2 finish, with the third factory car finishing sixth, saw Peugeot back to its best at La Sarthe.
That year the first privately entered 908 would also take the start, 2008-spec model for Pescarolo Sport which crashed out.
The factory team would then go on to race at Petit Le Mans to close the season and would score their first win in the USA there.
Their second US win would come at Sebring in 2011, a dominant 1-2, followed by a win at Spa in the Le Mans Series race which served as a warm-up for Le Mans and a hoped for title defence. It would prove to be a disaster, one car out early on with a suspension failure, the other three (two factory cars and the ORECA-entered 908 HDI FAP) all suffering engine failures after newly installed titanium connecting rods failed.
2010 also saw the first of two seasons for the pre-FIA WEC Intercontinental Le Mans Cup. The first season featured just three races: the final round of the Le Mans Series (Silverstone), ALMS (Petit Le Mans) and the sole race for the Asian Le Mans Series at Zhuhai. Peugeot won all three and took the title.
In addition, 2010 featured a full-season effort in Le Mans Series from ORECA’s 908 HDI FAP, the French team taking the title but with only one race win, at Portimao.
2011’s campaign was headlined by the debut of a significantly different 908. Peugeot had begun development of the new car, initially known as the 90X, in late 2009.
The new car incorporated the, by now de rigeur, larger front wheels as well as the newly ACO-mandated rear ‘shark’ fin and was powered by a 3.7-litre diesel-fuelled V8.
The car debuted at Sebring, in the opening round of a much-expanded ILMC, but was beaten, after issues, by an old-spec ORECA-run 908 HDI FAP in a famous win for Hughes de Chaunac.
Thereafter the Peugeots were a force to be reckoned with and lost only one more race that season en route to the ILMC title.
Unfortunately for them, the only blemish was, again, the Le Mans 24 Hours, despite the Audi team losing two of its three R18 TDI’s to crashes in spectacular fashion.
That left the surviving #2 R18 to fight off a trio of factory 908s, and an ORECA-run 908 HDI FAP. The manner of it achieving the win is still the stuff of Le Mans legend, Peugeot beaten to a 2,3,4,5 finish that must have hurt as much as their mechanical meltdown the previous year.
Despite the painful defeat, the factory initially committed to the new-for-2012 FIA World Endurance Championship with the next iteration of the 908 concept, the Hybrid4.
Pre-season testing was progressing apace until the plug was pulled with the team preparing for the start of the season at Sebring, with their drivers in the air en route.
Since then, after more than one false start to a potential return as the company recovered from financial woes, Peugeot is set to return. The 2022/23 season looks set to be the start of a third era of Peugeot in sportscar racing, where it will push to add a fourth Le Mans win and a second sportscar racing FIA World title to its list of accolades.
Peugeot 905 pics courtesy and copyright racingsportscars.com