Peugeot's Hypercar transformation: 'The team used to run on passion – now it's about science'

Sports Car News

Peugeot's impressive new 9X8 Hypercar is pushing the technological boundaries, though as Anthony Davidson explains, in the past this often came at the expense of results for the French marque


Peugeot acquitted itself well in Monza despite inevitable reliability gremlins on first showing


When Peugeot’s new 9X8 made its long-awaited debut at Monza last weekend, all the attention was on the ‘wingless’ ground-effect Hypercar.

As the French marque returns to endurance racing, it is once more using motor sport to push technological boundaries, even though that has previously come at the expense of important race results.

The nadir came at Le Mans 2010, when not one but three Peugeot 908s sacrificed the lead to reliability issues, amongst rumours of not proving certain components and a lack of sufficient testing.

Anthony Davidson, who was part of the works endurance squad which won the 12 Hours of Sebring 12 years ago, says a team which was always striving to use new technology ran on pure emotion and often featured tears “whether it was for the good or bad.”

Peugeot 9X8 Hypercar in the pits at the Six Hours of Monza

Peugeot has joined WEC with a car still in development


Now though, the 2014 WEC champion sees the outfit as a much more clinical beast. Whereas in his time the team used to often a “suck it and see” approach when trying out new parts, Davidson knows now no fresh component goes on track without being tried in the virtual world first.

“It’s all simulation now – not many things are left to chance these days,” he says. “You almost know what’s going to happen. I think that’s why they were so realistic heading into Monza.

“It’s so technical now. The r&d has really stepped up, simulation has absolutely taken taken a huge leap forward – it was almost non-existent back in 2011.

“Those kinds of tools have vastly improved in my time since those days and so therefore reliability is better understood.”

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Peugeot has chosen to go the down the Hypercar route as it joins WEC in its new age – next year it will be going up against incumbent Toyota and Glickenhaus as well as Porsche, Ferrari and Cadillac amongst others.

Predictable reliability gremlins meant that only one of the two cars — the No94 of Loic Duval, Gustavo Menezes and James Rossiter — made it to the finish at the Temple of Speed, but the new methodical approach brought enough potential to impress those watching.

Duval’s fastest lap was within 0.6sec of the ultimate pace in Monza. Considering the team was using the event as a test race, the speed it showed was impressive as it mainly aimed to collect data.

“We came here to learn and it effectively taught us a great deal,” said technical director Olivier Jansonnie after the race. “We were faced with numerous race-related problems that we couldn’t have replicated in testing, but we are reassured by the potential our car showed in free practice and during the race.

“We were on the pace but we are well aware of the areas where we need to improve. We had already planned a programme of tests over the coming weeks and they will give us a chance to address these issues in order to be ready for Fuji.”


Reliability issues held Davidson and Peugeot back in marque’s last attempts at Le Mans


The data-led approach is a long way from the old garagista days of motor sport, which Davidson says lingered into the early 2000s but has now faded away. He feels the proof is in the pudding of today’s approach, particularly with Peugeot.

“They were more prepared going into their first event as a race team, because they knew they knew that the pitfalls in the development of that car,” he says. “They knew it before the machine even started the race. It wasn’t a mystery.

“The Colin Chapman days are gone, you don’t have that kind of sparkle anymore, it’s not quite as intuitive.

“It takes a bit of the magic out of it, which is what we had back then, but you have to respect the amount that goes into it today.”

The 9X8s were at the centre of every photographer’s camera lens and Instagram story in Monza. Davidson feels the French squad lived up to the hype and acquitted itself well once on track.

“I think they can they can be pleased with the job they did,” he says. “I never expected both cars to make it to the end of the race because I know how technically fickle all these cars are with hybrid technology – even now we see the Toyota programme, which has been running for 10 years, have problems.

“When the car was on track, to be six tenths off the pace compared to the Toyotas is a good starting point.”

This point was emphasised by Duval in describing the scale in the task on Peugeot’s hands: “We cannot match the level of rivals with 10 years of experience under their belts after just one race.”

Nonetheless, Davidson and co were still surprised by the speed the 9X8s showed.

“I’m sure they weren’t pushing the car as hard as it could go and I think the qualifying performance surpassed my expectations – I didn’t expect them to be as close to the front,” he says.

Peugeot 9X8 Hpyercar in the pack at the Six Hours of Monza 2022

Peugeot 9X8 has shown good pace from the off in WEC


“I just love the look of the car, I love their approach, I love the sound of it when you’re riding onboard. There’s nothing not to like, it’s awesome!”

This new methodical approach is in sharp contrast to what Davidson experienced in his time in the team, which went from 2010 to the end of 2011.

“I’d have to say it was probably the most spirited bunch of people I’ve ever worked with in my time as a driver,” he recalls. “You felt loved within the team, they wore their hearts on their sleeves.

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“So whether it was for the good or bad, there were a lot of tears.”

Although the squad triumphed in 2009 in Le Mans, Peugeot was often known for having a fast car which struggled to make the finish. Never more was this evident than in 2010, when three of its cars all retired from the lead one by one – Davidson’s being amongst them.

Just like now with its ‘wingless’ 9X8, Peugeot was pushing the limits on what was possible with new technology, but frequently came off second-best as a result.

“They probably pushed a bit too hard in development sometimes, and lost a few races that shouldn’t have been lost, like Le Mans in 2010,” Davidson says.

“That was a race where we had such performance in the car and we would have won at a counter with some of the older technology that we had been using.


Davidson believes future of WEC looks promising with Peugeot and other manufacturers entering


“The team continued to push with new developments, mainly for the engine side of things, and wanted not just to win the race, but absolutely crush the competition!

“I think sometimes that got the better of them, but it was all part and parcel of how it operated. You had to be prepared for a lot of heartache.”

However, with the floodgates on manufacturers about to open for the world of sports cars once more, Davidson can only see the future being bright for the endurance discipline, Peugeot included.

“I think it’s it’s going to be a special time seeing more and more manufacturers like Ferrari, Porsche, BMW and Cadillac arriving one after the other to try and take the fight to the might of Toyotas, who’ve had a stranglehold on the championship over the last, ” he says.

“It’s the start of something really exciting for WEC. This is just the beginning.”