Today is a landmark day for the FIA World Endurance Championship, as Peugeot showcased its new Le Mans Hypercar ahead of its 2022 debut.
The car itself makes a bold statement. Aerodynamically, Peugeot Sport has chosen a radical solution with no rear wing, instead relying on the underbody to generate the bulk of the car’s downforce. This is by no means the first car designed to win the Le Mans 24 Hours without a rear wing, but it is the first top-class car since the ill-fated Nissan GTR LM was launched in 2014 to really go against the grain in the aero department.
Current Le Mans Hypercar challengers Toyota and Glickenhaus will be taking a close look at today’s announcement and wondering what sort of threat this new racer will pose to their ambitions next year. But with the formula governed by Balance of Performance, it is the fine margins that will likely be the difference between wins and losses over the course of a season.
And perhaps the most encouraging aspect to Peugeot Sport’s new program is the work going on behind the scenes during this embryonic stage. RACER has spoken to multiple sources within the program in recent months and has been buoyed by the feedback given.
“It’s all so organized,” RACER was told by a source who wished to remain anonymous. “Everything is being planned far in advance from work schedules, sim schedules and flights.”
The car appears to be on schedule for a 2022 race debut. The 2.6 liter, twin-turbo V6 engine is believed to have already been tested on the dyno since April. Parts are already being manufactured and crash tested, with the car shown off today representing “75-80 percent of what we will see on track,” with only minor additional tweaks expected to be made. As for the car’s battery, TotalEnergies is understood to be hard at work and currently in the thick of the planning phase.
Peugeot’s drivers, meanwhile, have been busy preparing for the testing program, which is due to begin in December. All of them have chipped in to the cockpit design, and have played a role in developing the simulator.
“Major strides” have been made in the sim department, RACER has been told, which is being used and improved by nominated simulator driver James Rossiter on a weekly basis.
After small mishaps cost Peugeot dearly so many times during its years spent with the 908, it knows what it needs to do to succeed this time around. One aspect it has focused on is creating the best working atmosphere between the drivers that it can.
“It already feels like a family,” one of Peugeot’s drivers told RACER. “It feels like we are all part of a big process, it’s tight knit.”
There is one big question mark however, and that is where and when the car will make its WEC race debut. As it stands, FIA WEC social media accounts state it is ‘set to compete at Le Mans in 2022′ but Peugeot will only be held to ‘2022.’ Within the program there appears to be no firm commitment to a date or event yet.
One source told RACER that “the plan is to compete at Le Mans in 2022, ahead of a full-season program in 2023. However, this is hypothetical, and we have many milestones to achieve before that, I don’t imagine having the car ready.” Another pointed out that the leaders of this project are not going to “rush” the testing phase.
“The target has always been a mid-2022 debut,” they said, “so it may be after Le Mans. The thought is that we don’t mind that 2022 presents a chance to win with fewer cars (in Hypercar), because we aim to beat whoever is in front of us anyway. We don’t want to over-promise, we want to do this the right way.”
Peugeot, it seems, want to avoid ‘testing in public’ with its new car, which is understandable given the level of ambition on display here.
As a result, if the 2022 FIA WEC season begins at Sebring in March at Sebring, it looks somewhat unlikely that Peugeot will be present. But really, the more pressing matter is whether or not the team will be on hand for its home race in June. Whether or not it will be ready to take the fight to Toyota, Glickenhaus, and potentially Alpine (if the French constructor finds a way to move on from its grandfathered LMP1 chassis, which is currently ineligible next season and compete in LMH with a new car) remains to be seen.
The ACO will surely be hoping that Peugeot finds a way to get on the grid. Right now we appear to be in a similar situation to 2012, when Peugeot pulled the plug on its LMP1 program ahead of the inaugural FIA WEC season. At the time Audi would have been left without any factory competition at La Sarthe, had Toyota not pulled out all the stops to debut its TS030 early. Will Peugeot return the favor this time?
What is clear though, is that those within the Peugeot Sport camp are blown away by the car that the design team has produced. There’s still a long way to go, but right now the team’s confidence levels and excitement are all sky high.
“It all gave me goosebumps; this is the first car that lives up to the Hypercar formula’s expectations,” a Peugeot driver told RACER after seeing the car for the first time. “I stared at it for 10 minutes. It’s just different to any modern race car I have seen.
“I’m also impressed with how it highlights Peugeot car design. It looks like a real Peugeot, the future of Peugeot. For the first time in 15 years, there will be a car racing for wins at Le Mans that kids will want to hang posters of up on their bedroom walls in huge numbers.
“I know that fans are going to really love this car. They are going to roar!”