Not yet. Peugeot’s 908 HDi has failed to win Le Mans – so far
Peugeot’s return to the Le Mans 24 Hours was the news every sports car fan had been waiting for. Audi, for so long the dominant force at La Sarthe, would come up against a manufacturer that knew how to win – and how to spend to win – The Big One.
The marque announced its 2007 return with a diesel-powered prototype at Le Mans two years earlier. Peugeot’s continuing world rally programme meant that work didn’t start on the car that became the 908 in earnest until January 2006.
That’s when designer Paolo Cantone, one of André de Cortanze’s understudies on the 905, rejoined Peugeot. The first engine, a 5.5-litre V12 developed with Mecachrome, was shown off at Le Mans in ’06, the year that Audi claimed a first-time-out Le Mans victory with its new R10 turbodiesel.
Peugeot arrived back at Le Mans “with humbleness and modesty”, according to company president Frédéric Saint-Geours. Beating Audi was not on its agenda until the second year of the programme, he stressed.
The 908 HDi could not race at Audi’s speed in 2007. Twelve months later, however, the car was fastest – by some margin.
Peugeot didn’t win Le Mans last year for a variety of reasons, all of which had something to do with the rain that arrived at half distance. Overheating, traction control issues and the phenomenal performance from the winning Audi crew led by Allan McNish all played their part.
It was clear by last June that Audi had a new car on the way. Which explains the words of Peugeot team manager Serge Saulnier after the race: “To win in the future may not be so easy.”