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Peugeot’s Le Mans History: Part Four, Diesel Days

The 908 HDI FAP and '90X'

Peugeot announced that it would return to sportscar racing 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 the 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 Hugues 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 several of 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.