Peugeot 908 LMP1 Tales: Center of pressure

Image by Marshall Pruett

Peugeot 908 LMP1 Tales: Center of pressure

Le Mans/WEC

Peugeot 908 LMP1 Tales: Center of pressure

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Peugeot’s lithe replacement for the original 908 HDI FAP and its nuclear turbodiesel V12 was a little dancer with a lighter twin-turbo V8 diesel in the back and an all-new 908 chassis that looked like it was born in Victory Lane.

Looks for the 2011 creation, as shared by Sebastien Bourdais, Anthony Davidson, and Pedro Lamy in an excerpt from the Peugeot 908 LMP1 Memories podcast, were deceiving.

Davidson: “We hated the next generation of the 908. The only car we really want to talk about is the V12 908. The V8 was still good and if it was the first car you ever jumped into as a sports car; you’d love it, of course but it was a down-scaled version. It was like a 908 light, if you like. It just wasn’t the same, you didn’t have the same power. The car was a bit more sophisticated aerodynamically, but it was never the same car. The wheel dimensions changed as well, so it basically had the same width of wheel from front to rear. It changed the balance of the car and the feel, which we all just preferred the stability of original V12 908 over the V8 car.”

Lamy: “Yeah, I agree. I mean, the V12 was fantastic. If I have to say something, I believe Peugeot when arrived, it just came with something really new against Audi. Audi was our main competitor and they were not strong enough for the technology Peugeot brought into the competition. That’s my feeling and it’s my opinion. And then, Audi had to catch back slowly and then they (came) back.”

Bourdais: “In ’11 they killed us.”

Lamy: “They killed us because they came with a completely new car, completely different, but they had to invest. I think they had a different people making the car and they were alone in the market and Peugeot came really strong into the business and they did a great job, I have to say that.

Bourdais: “Especially with the budget, because it was a fraction of the Audi budget then and all of the money was into the performance of the car. I think we got bit a couple of time with quality control and suppliers and this and that but ultimately, I mean the performance of the car from the get-go, ’07, ’08, ’09, ’10 was just superior. And then in ’11 when Audi responded, they responded big and there was a bit of a conceptual issue with the second version of the 908, because that 908 was meant to be running 46% of front CoP (aerodynamic center of pressure), and it was those big front tires and the whole concept was running very little rear wing. Sure enough, we found our buddy (Peugeot driver) Nic (Minassian) flying over the fence at Paul Ricard and everybody’s scaring themselves with the car the way it was meant to be, because the concept was wrong at that point. He lost the car, it was snappy (oversteering). The car was snappy there, was difficult to drive.”

Davidson: “We were all scared to drive it.”

Bourdais: “Yeah, it was like everybody was scared and (Peugeot driver) Stephane (Sarrazin) was hanging onto it and driving it.”

Davidson: “Of course he would, Stephane would just hang on to anything. I remember him telling me, ‘You’ve just got to say to the car, “I am zee boss, I am zee boss.”‘ And I’m like, ‘What are you talking about? Just take the front aero out of the thing.’”

The “scary” 2011 908. Image by Marshall Pruett

Bourdais: “This thing is scary, yeah, and there was no taking front wing off of it. The only way was to put rear wing into it and it killed the concept because then the efficiency of the car became bad. Unfortunately, we almost killed Nic, who we found at the airport, over the fence, flying backwards because he spun the thing at high speed, when the thing finally let go on him.”

Davidson: “We heard it, that’s the first thing. We were doing the Circuit Paul Ricard, where you went flat out around the left-right kink. Now, that’s the place we we’re all really struggling to hold onto the car because we didn’t know at the time and neither did the team, but the correlation was wrong to the wind tunnel. We were 5% out in our aero balance, 5%!”

Bourdais: “So the car was a little twitchy.”

Davidson: “So every time we were saying to them, ‘Take some front wing out,’ or, ‘Dial out the front of the car, just raise the front ride height or anything you can do.’ They were saying, ‘No, it all matches the figures properly. It’s set where it needs to be.’ It was really tough, one of the most pointy cars I’ve ever driven. But anyway, we heard it all go quiet as Nic thundered down the main straight in Paul Ricard. We heard the slide, we heard it go quiet and we legged it to the car, the teammates, we just thought, ‘Wow, we know where he is. We know exactly what’s happened.’

“We went around to the perimeter road as quick as we could. The drivers were the first ones there. We were looking for the car on the track, ‘Where’s the car? Where’s the bloody car?’ And it’s over the fence on the runway, no lie. They had to close the airport. The car was over the fence and he was upside down, or on its side. He was sitting there, he’d got out the car and he was sitting there all disheveled and dazed. It was unbelievable. Honestly, I thought we were going there to witness a fatality and there’s nothing left of the car. Nic, he didn’t know where he was and it was really bad. Yeah, poor Nic. I mean, it was going to happen to one of us at some point, basically.”

Bourdais: “(Peugeot eventually fixed the CoP and) the problem is it came at the cost of the efficiency of the car and the performance of the car at Le Mans, and unfortunately, because of it, the model didn’t work anymore. We were just far too draggy and we got our butt handed to us at Le Mans. The concept was the absolute best for Le Mans, except we had to take downforce of the front and we could take nothing out of the rear. So the efficiency was just terrible for the Le Mans track. Then Audi did a far better job on that and they killed us.”

Davidson: “Yeah, we were basically a second and a bit too slow every lap, weren’t we? Which at Le Mans, with all the safety cars and stuff, you can kind of keep within the fight, but any more than that and you wave goodbye to the victory. Yeah, we tried — we drove our hearts out on that race. I still think it’s one of, personally, my best races I ever put together at Le Mans, but we just didn’t have the equipment to do it.”

Catch the full conversation below:

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