10 things we know about Peugeot's WEC challenger so far

One of the World Endurance Championship’s big contenders is close to joining the grid and making its debut in the Hypercar era. Details about Peugeot’s 9X8 have been tightly guarded but here’s what we know about the car, the team and the drivers

10 things we know about Peugeot's WEC challenger so far

Peugeot unveiled its 9X8 World Endurance Championship challenger in show car form last July. The real thing is now up and running, but there aren't official photographs of the definitive car in all its glory as yet.

The world will have to wait for the official launch of the car, a date for which won't be set until Peugeot knows when it is going to start racing the four-wheel-drive hybrid. That's when we will see get to see the full car and find out more about the avant-garde Le Mans Hypercar.

Until then, here's what we know so far about the machine that brings Peugeot back to top-flight sportscar racing in pursuit of a fourth Le Mans 24 Hours victory.

Peugeot 9X8

Peugeot 9X8

Photo by: Peugeot Sport

1. It's up and running - and testing hard

The first 9X8 has now completed its first two track tests, at Aragon in January and Paul Ricard last week. They followed a series of runs before Christmas at one of its automotive proving grounds that Peugeot describes as much more than a roll-out.

That's why Olivier Jansonnie, technical director of the WEC operation at Peugeot Sport, describes the three days at Aragon in Spain "as a proper performance test" for the four-wheel-drive hybrid Le Mans Hypercar.

"There are a lot of things you can do and must do before you actually go on a proper race circuit," he explains. "These cars are quite complex in terms of their systems.

Peugeot isn't revealing how may kilometres the car has completed so far, but progress has been rapid enough for the 9X8 to begin endurance testing at Ricard. The in-house Peugeot Sport team had the track right through the night between days two and three last week.

But Jansonnie stresses that it remains "too early to call it a proper endurance simulation".

"We ran overnight for a long period time and were running in spirit of keeping the car on track," he said. "But if we have any doubt about the car we prefer to keep it in the pits, look carefully and send it [out] when we are sure there are no issues."

Peugeot 9X8 refueling

Peugeot 9X8 refueling

Photo by: Peugeot Sport

2. The programme is on schedule

That's no mean achievement, even though what has become the 9X8 was announced seemingly an age ago in November 2019. The world has changed since then — that's the real world and the racing one.

Peugeot has kept to its timeline despite COVID, the well-publicised supply-chain issues that are affecting the automotive industry and the shifting sands of sportscar racing. There have been significant rule changes since the Peugeot programme was announced, nor should it be forgotten that back in November 2019 the hard deadline for its return to the top flight of sportscar racing was late summer 2022. That was when the 2022-23 WEC season run to the now-abandoned winter format was due to start.

Peugeot never ruled out taking part in some races ahead of its first full season back in the pinnacle of sportscar racing, but Jansonnie points out that the team is "somehow looking at racing before our initial schedule".

"It is extremely gratifying," says Jansonnie of Peugeot's ability to stick to its schedule. "But it is because the team pushed like hell."

Peugeot Hypercar 9X8

Peugeot Hypercar 9X8

Photo by: Monza Eni Circuit

3. A decision on a 2022 Le Mans attack is imminent

A call on whether Peugeot will grace the grid at Le Mans this year for the first time since its near-miss with the second-generation 908 LMP1 turbodiesel in 2011 is due within two weeks. The Le Mans entry list is scheduled to be published on either 28 February or 1 March, and the French manufacturer has stressed that a decision will be made before then.

"The Le Mans entry list will be released at the end of February or the beginning of March, so we will have to make our decision before," explains Jean-Marc Finot, motorsport boss of the Stellantis group of which Peugeot has been a part since early last year.

Jansonnie has revealed that Peugeot will have completed a third test at an undisclosed venue by then, but he admits that making the call to go to Le Mans will be a gamble. "It's a question of weighing up the pros and cons," he said.

The major con, of course, is that once Peugeot commits to racing the 9X8 and homologates the car, its specification will be frozen up to the end of the current rules cycle in 2025. There will be only limited scope for development thereafter.

Peugeot 9X8

Peugeot 9X8

Photo by: Peugeot Sport

4. An outing at Spa in May would precede a Le Mans campaign

The WEC suggested last month that Peugeot would be required to race at the Spa round of the WEC in May if it wants to race at Le Mans. That's not actually a requirement laid down in the sporting regulations, but Jansonnie makes it clear that it is Peugeot's intention to take part in the Belgian race should it hit the button and go to the 24 Hours.

"This is something we have always said: if we want to race at Le Mans we will have to do Spa," he says. "It is part of the acceptance we have of the Balance of Performance process."

The WEC organisation and Peugeot are definitely singing from the same song sheet on this topic. The system of BoP in the Hypercar class is based on empirical data from the races. Put simply, the rule makers need to see the 9X8 race before Le Mans to ensure a fair balance between the different cars.

Peugeot 9X8

Peugeot 9X8

Photo by: Peugeot Sport

5. The car continues to run without a rear wing

The big talking point on the release of the first images of the 9X8 was the absence of conventional wing at the back. The doubters cast it as headline grabbing move, but Jansonnie remains confident about the aero concept on the 9X8.

"If the question is if we have had any issues with the concept, the answer is no," he says. "That doesn't mean there aren't any issues; we're just saying that we haven't found any yet. We are not 100% at the end of the validation.

"The aero is part of it, probably the most obvious part, but there are many other different concept choices we have made on the car that are just as critical as the aero, or even more critical. But conceptually so far so good."

Jansonnie is happy with progress in testing so far.

"We are finding issues and solving them quite quickly," he says. "Things are changing quite quickly on the car because it is the very beginning."

Peugeot 9X8

Peugeot 9X8

Photo by: Peugeot Sport

6. But the real 9X8 does look a bit different to the show car

The aero configuration of the 9X8 has been tweaked since the unveiling of the show car, which was based on the aerodynamic surfaces as they stood in the design process a couple of months before the July reveal. Most visible are what might be described as kick-ups over the rear wheels.

These were incorrectly interpreted by some as being the two ends of a rear wing when Peugeot put out a teaser shot from the first shakedown with much of the back of the car blanked out.

Jansonnie explains that these are devised to bring the design into the downforce and drag windows laid down in the LMH regulations.

"More downforce and more drag," he says of the reasoning behind them. "You can't outperform the box. The window is quite narrow and you can't be above or below. All of the flaps we have could change. They are the things you use to tune the aero to bring it into the box."

Don't forget the LMH rules, like the sister LMDh regulations, allow only one aerodynamic configuration for all tracks, Le Mans included. Only one adjustable aerodynamic device is allowed. It would be safe to say that in the absence of a rear wing, this is buried somewhere under the nose on the Peugeot.

Peugeot Sport team member

Peugeot Sport team member

Photo by: Peugeot Sport

7. It has the same size tyres front and rear

The LMH rules, for the moment at least, allow two ways to skin a cat in terms of the rubber a car puts on the race track: the cars are allowed either 13.5in tyres at the front and 15in at the rear or 14in all round. Peugeot has opted for the latter, just like Toyota did last year on its GR010 HYBRID.

The choice reflects the different tyre requirements of a two-wheel-drive car putting all its power through the rear wheels and a four-wheel-drive hybrid. The so-called '120 rule', named after the minimum speed in kilometres per hour at which hybrid drive was allowed at the front wheels, has now been shifted into BoP, which means it can change from track to track and car to car.

Jansonnie describes Peugeot's choice of 14/14 as "one of the concept points of the car", which has a 50/50 weight distribution front to rear. There is a confidence on his part that sticking with its this concept will not put Peugeot at a disadvantage. "Embedded in the BoP are levers to tweak it to make sure all the cars are equal," he says.

Toyota, however, has switched to the 13.5/15 option for this year, though has yet to confirm it.

Peugeot Hypercar 9X8

Peugeot Hypercar 9X8

Photo by: Paolo Belletti

8. The design that became the 9X8 started life with a V8

The initial concept for what we now call the 9X8 had a twin-turbo V8 in the back rather than the V6 with which the car was announced. This changed to a V6 after the announcement of the LMDh category in January 2020 and a reduction in the total power — from both the internal combustion engine and the front-axle motor generator unit — allowed to the cars at Le Mans from 585kW or 500kW, or 780bhp to 670bhp.

This move was announced in July 2020 but was more or less a given some time before as the convergence process got up to speed in the wake of the announcement of the LMDh category in January that year. The minimum weight of a dressed engine came down by 20kg at his point, too.

Jansonnie explains that the new power figure was "very much on the limit" between a V8 and a V6. "We made our choice [based] on that," he says.

The timing was fortuitous, he recalls.

"Our schedule has not been the luckiest from the beginning because there have been many changes to the regulations that have impacted us quite negatively," explains Jansonnie. "But this was one that was actually quite positive because we were lucky to be just at the point to make the decision."

Peugeot has also confirmed that the vee angle of the 2.6-litre V6 turbo is 90 degrees.

Loic Duval, Peugeot 9X8

Loic Duval, Peugeot 9X8

Photo by: Peugeot Sport

9. Who has driven the car

Five of the six WEC squad have now driven the car.

Kevin Magnussen and Mikkel Jensen got their first taste of the 9X8 on a race track at Ricard. They shared the running with Paul di Resta, Loic Duval and Gustavo Menezes, who were also present at Aragon.

That means Jean-Eric Vergne is the only one of the six not to have driven the car on a track proper. He wasn't available for the Aragon test, nor at Ricard, which took place in the week ahead of the Mexico City round of Formula E.

James Rossiter, the test and simulator driver, has also been behind the wheel. He had the honour of turning the first proper laps of the 9X8 at Aragon.

Peugeot's WEC driver line-up

Peugeot's WEC driver line-up

Photo by: Peugeot Sport

10. The driver line-ups aren't set as yet

One thing we don't know is who's going to be driving with whom. Nor it seems does Peugeot at this stage. It reckons it is something that will be decided through the initial test phase. Jansonnie reckons a decision on the line-ups is "very far away".

Working on the car is the first priority and then, he says, the team needs to understand "whose set-up preferences are aligned and "who's getting on well together".

The timeline on how the six drivers are teamed will, of course, depend on the big decision about Le Mans.

Peugeot 9X8

Peugeot 9X8

Photo by: Peugeot Sport

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