“It’s not just a new car. It’s a new team. It’s a human exercise.”
These words come from Olivier Jansonnie, World Endurance Championship technical director for Peugeot Sport, as he leans against the pit wall at Magny-Cours. The new Peugeot 9X8 barrels past in a hollow, bassy, V6 cacophony every minute or so, a misty rooster tail in its wake as the team racks up some wet testing miles to add to the circa 25,000km (15,535 miles) of testing that it’s aiming for.
Jansonnie’s point strikes home. The focus on Peugeot’s resurgence into global motorsport has been on the swoopy, wingless 9X8 that will slide into the WEC later this year, under the new Le Mans Hypercar (LMH) regulations that replaced the Le Mans Prototype (LMP) set last year.
The Hypercar class was designed specifically to encourage manufacturer participation, with costs cut by some 80% over the prodigiously expensive LMP1 class and the machinery designed to more closely relate to road-going performance cars.
With Alpine, Ferrari, Porsche and Toyota also now among those either already racing in the WEC or confirmed as joining for 2023, it’s safe to say that the FIA’s plan has worked. Even Lamborghini will join the bundle from 2024.
Why has Peugeot come back, and why isn’t it at Le Mans this year?
Peugeot is far from a newcomer to top-flight motorsport. Let’s not overlook its successes on the Dakar Rally in 2016, 2017 and 2018, never mind three wins at the hallowed Le Mans 24 Hours, in 1992, 1993 and 2009. There’s also the small matter of five World Rally Championship constructors’ titles and three Pikes Peak victories in the past few decades.
But in more recent years, Peugeot withdrew from top-flight motorsport. So why reverse that decision now? The merger of the PSA Group and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles to create the giant Stellantis organisation certainly played a part. Not only that but also, with the launch of the Peugeot Sport Engineered range, starting with the handsome 508 PSE, Peugeot now has a sporting badge that it’s pitching as a leader in electrified performance.