French automaker Peugeot has revealed the new hybrid hypercar that it will race in the World Endurance Championship series and the 24 Hours of Le Mans next year. Not only does it look extremely cool — it truly “looks fast standing still,” as they say in motorsports — but it’s missing the typical rear wing, meaning Peugeot’s designers and engineers are making a huge bet that they can create the kind of aerodynamic downforce required to compete with Toyota, the dominant player in prototype racing.
The new car, named the 9X8, is also just the latest reason to start following the top sports car racing series in the world, as it’s a sign that automakers of various stripes are taking the new Le Mans Hypercar class seriously and — crucially — are willing to put a ton of effort into designing vehicles that are genuinely interesting and different. Not only will Peugeot race this radical car starting next year, joining Toyota and single-car team Glickenhaus, but Ferrari is entering a car starting in 2023. It will be the Italian sports car manufacturer’s first prototype-class racing car in more than a half century.
The Le Mans Hypercar class was created a few years ago as Audi and Porsche dropped out of what was then the top prototype class in endurance racing, Le Mans Prototype 1, citing high costs. (Audi and Porsche opted instead to focus on Formula E, the upstart all-electric racing series that is far less expensive — though Audi has since announced it’s leaving that sport.) As a result, Toyota dominated the series in the interim as basically the lone entrant in the top class.
Creating a whole new class let the sport’s governing body, the FIA, address the cost issue while also giving potential entrants a new set of technical challenges to try to conquer. The new class is also supposed to be a little slower than LMP1, and involve more technology typically found in road cars.
Still, Peugeot’s new car is a beast. Per the regulations, it will marry a 680 horsepower V6 engine with a 200kW electric motor that pulls its power from a 900-volt battery pack that Peugeot is co-developing with French company Saft. Interestingly, since the regulations only allow a maximum of 680 horsepower at any given time during a race, the Peugeot’s powertrain will have to dynamically balance the power output of these two sources, since they can create more than that in tandem.
Clever technical solutions like that are one of the reasons to watch sports like endurance racing in the first place, but — for now at least — the new Le Mans Hypercar class doesn’t seem too prescriptive. In fact, it’s the existence of ample wiggle room in the rules that makes the wingless design possible in the first place, according to Peugeot.
“The greater flexibility allowed by the sport’s new technical rules regarding aerodynamics permits radical new thinking that favours the emergence of innovative cars, with scope for the design teams to make an even bigger contribution,” Peugeot Sport said in a statement. “Peugeot’s engineers and designers effectively took advantage of this opportunity to invent new creative processes and break away from established codes to produce a Hypercar of a completely new genre.”
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