Whilst there’s little debate that a combination of spiralling cost and ‘political’ interference in motorsport killed the much-loved Group C category, its final years did at least produce some truly spectacular machines in what was perhaps a near-exact parallel to the exit from the scene almost three decades later of LMP1!
The final evolution of Group C saw blisteringly fast 750kg high-revving V10-powered cars do battle in what, in terms of both cost and numbers, eventually became an unsustainable formula filed, at least by those who watched the cars close at hand and drove them, as a period best defined as “enormous fun – while it lasted!”.
One of the success stories of the period was the Peugeot 905, at the time the ultimate road racing expression of Peugeot Sport’s ambition, a company buoyed up by the sales success of their sporty GTis and stage rally success by the bonkers Group B version of the legendary Peugeot 205 now looked to different horizons.
Still at the helm of Peugeot Sport, after the rally successes was current FIA President Jean Todt and, whilst there’s little doubt that Todt saw he writing on the wall for the Formula, he and his team also saw the opportunity writ equally large to claim glories that outweighed the likely short-term opportunity of the revised formula. The original 905 was announced in late 1988 and unveiled in July 1990 ahead of the introduction of the new ruleset for the following season.
After being comprehensively outgunned by the rival Jaguar XJR14 the Peugeot lion went off, not to lick its wounds, but to bolster the effort, more power from the V10 (c.700 bhp) and a very significant aero programme saw a big leap forward with enormous rear wings and the car featuring an additional huge nose-mounted aerofoil for races where high downforce was deemed an advantage.
But this article doesn’t come under the heading of “Sportscars that got beaten, got better and kicked arse” Because this article is about the last leap forward that Peugeot took with the 905, a car that took its nickname from the French title for an American TV series – The 905 Evo 2 “Supercopter” – that the moniker ascribed to it by the first French journalists that saw the extraordinary beast, the description being the French title for the almost iconic ‘Airwolf’ TV show.
The 1992 Evo 2 was set to pick up where the successful Evo 1 905 had left off, targeting the 1993 season, the original car designed by André de Cortanze and the new car developed by Enrique Hector Scalabroni around a full carbon chassis built by aviation giant Dassault.
The ‘Evo 1 version of the 905 (below) was already a big aerodynamic step from the early versions of the car but the ‘Supercopter’ took things much, much further.
The design had three major priorities downforce, more downforce and some additional downforce. In place of the rounded nose design of the earlier cars it featured a high nose with broad openings between the wheel arches, a radically different look and execution from the earlier car and a solution which arguably, despite its lack of on-track success, influenced designers many years later.
The core theme of the car was the sheer scale of air the design attempted to manage, almost fully flat sides with underbody ‘skirts’ and enormous Venturi tunnels either side of the cockpit with little attempt to clutter the available space with other body elements.
This was arguably as close to a faired-in single seater as was ever seen in World Championship level competition.
There were no significant changes to the already dominant 40 valve V10 mechanical package, a promised fully automatic transmission would not feature when the car broke cover.
That should have been at Donington Park in 1992 for the first public running, instead, the team continued to test at Paul Ricard (pictured top) before the wraps were finally taken off at the final round of the shortened season at Magny Cours by which time the World title was already won by Peugeot.
Only one of the two Evo 2 cars ran in practice at Magny Cours (above), the other displayed in the paddock (below) and available as a spare.
Whilst the team arrived with a clear preference to race the new car, the drivers (Yannick Dallas and Derek Warwick) tested the Evo 1 bis and Evo 2 back to back with the older car substantially the faster, the ‘Supercopter’ would not race!
By that point, with no little assistance from the erstwhile Championship Promoter – Bernie Ecclestone – was in its death throes, cancelled races, shortened calendar and a dwindling grid meant that it was no surprise when the Championship was canned for 1993, and much of the remaining manufacturer resource was siphoned off in the direction of F1, including Peugeot’s engine technology.
With no World Championship to focus a development programme around, and with the only significant outing available in 1993 being a race where the ‘all the downforce’ design of the Evo 2 was not the optimum solution (Le Mans), Peugeot competed instead, scoring a 1,2,3 clean sweep, with a further mild upgrade to the Evo 1 and the window of opportunity for the ‘Supercopter’ was closed, with the curtains drawn!
The influence of the radical design though would live on as future designers looked for the competitive edge, whilst Peter Elleray is often quoted as saying that the Evo 2 provided inspiration on his design of the two evolutions for the Bentley Speed 8 that would take victory at Le Mans in 2003, there are other designs too that, if you squint hard and use some imagination, you might come to the conclusion might have had a picture of the Supercopter on their initial concept ‘mood board’!