This year marks 30 years since Peugeot's first Le Mans victory, the 905 securing its place as an endurance icon in 1992 with that incredible V10 engine. It won the year after, too, just to cement its legacy. Three decades later Peugeot will once more aim for victory at the 24 Hours with this, the 9X8 - a "design and technical revolution", according to its maker.
With around 950hp from its hybrid powertrain (680hp from a twin 2.6 V6 and 270hp from and electric motor), the 9X8 promises to be fearsomely fast at La Sarthe. For now, however, with plenty of testing kilometres still to complete, the focus is on the 9X8's design. Peugeot has even gone to the effort of hiring Agnieszka Doroszewicz to do the snaps and "play with the light, patina, and contrasts of the concrete surroundings" of whichever brutalist multistorey car park this is. You might have seen the car before - but not like this.
Anyway, the 9X8. There's certainly no doubting it for anything but a Peugeot, with the distinctive 'lion's claw' lighting that's become a design trademark of the road car range dominating both ends. Apparently "a feline stance, fluid lines enhanced by sporty cues, sleek and structured flanks" are also Peugeot trademarks, and they're certainly more evident here than a 3008. The new Peugeot badge features, and the 9X8's cabin is even said to benefit from i-Cockpit concept. Which has probably confused as many people as it has impressed, but the Le Mans drivers are promised "the highest level of ergonomics and intuitiveness" from this driving environment. The aim with these cues, of course, is to try and link the hybrid Hypercar back to the production Peugeots - the 3008 Hybrid and 508 Peugeot Sport Engineered are mentioned - but, as always with these things, it's quite a big leap from plug-in SUV to Le Mans monster. Still, the 9X8 means another racecar in the world, and that's good news - even if the links to actual Peugeots are inevitably tenuous.
Perhaps the most notable design feature of the 9X8 is something that it lacks rather than what is has - there isn't a rear wing. This isn't some low-drag LM spec, either, as the 9X8 simply won't have one. Apparently a spoilerless car hasn't won the 24 Hours since 1971, so no wonder it looks out of the ordinary. Its maker reckons that "a huge amount of effort was put into the rear end", so presumably some clever aerodynamic devices feature underneath. Certainly looks cool, too.
Which, alongside being very fast (of course, thanks to "unprecedented" levels of work with Peugeot Sport), does kind of seem the 9X8's point. "On the walls of the design studio where the Peugeot 9X8 was born, we had posted three key words: iconic, efficient, emotional," said Matthias Hossann, Peugeot's Design Director. "This way, the whole team embraced these concepts, regardless of each individual's involvement across the various development stages. I had put the word ICONIC in everyone's mind, because I wanted a car that was both immediately recognisable and that marked a breakthrough, a fundamental generational shift." So there you are. Peugeot even describes the 9X8 as a milestone car - "there will be a before and after Peugeot 9X8, and we will be lucky to have been part of it" is a quote attributed merely to "the drivers" who have seen it. This is a big deal, be in no doubt.
It was 2009 that Peugeot last one Le Mans, which doesn't seem so long ago when you're old like us. But recalling that the successful 908 was diesel powered shows just how much time has passed since Peugeot triumphed at the race every French manufacturer really, really wants to win. 2022 is huge season for the World Endurance Championship, with the Hypercar class expanding to include LMDh-spec cars as well as LMH entrants like the Peugeot. All things being well, fans should be back in attendance, and Le Mans has returned to its traditional mid-June date. It would be quite the 24 Hours to win for Peugeot, especially 30 years after the 905; one thing's for certain - the 9X8 is going to look superb whatever happens in the race.
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