Peugeot – Seeking Bounceback With New 908

June 6, 2011

Peugeot – Seeking Bounceback With New 908

June 6, 2011

The three new Peugeot 908s. Photo credit: Rick Dole for Michelin North America

This is the first in a 24 Hours of Le Mans preview series. Check back to for more features and posts in the coming days.

No. 7: Anthony Davidson, Marc Gene, Alexander Wurz
No. 8: Stephane Sarrazin, Franck Montagny, Nicolas Minassian
No. 9: Sebastien Bourdais, Simon Pagenaud, Pedro Lamy

Peugeot’s 2010 trip to Le Mans verged on surreal. Dominant, stealthy and poised to repeat its 2009 triumph, suddenly the factory and partially-factory supported 908 HDi FAPs started dropping like flies. While fascinating to watch, it was pure gut-wrenching for the “French lions.”

The No. 3 car suffered a suspension failure that broke the chassis tub beyond repair in just the first few hours. At two-thirds distance, when the sun rose, Franck Montagny came to a grinding halt when the engine failed on his No. 2 car. Anthony Davidson put on a blinding charge in the No. 1 car although that was blighted when he made an overly ambitious maneuver in passing the GT2-class leading Corvette. And hours later, that car went up in flames. The ORECA-run No. 4 Peugeot also lost an engine.

There won’t be a repeat of that performance this year. Audi has gone in a completely different direction moving from an open-top to a coupe. Peugeot’s new 908 — similarly named — is far more than just an evolution of its first generation diesel. To the naked eye there isn’t a huge difference, but in the aerodynamic, chassis and suspension department, this is an entirely new car from the ground up, Davidson said. Both diesel contenders have a smaller engine displacement; Peugeot has opted for a V8 in theirs.

Franck Montagny and Nicolas Minassian (pictured) join Stephane Sarrazin in the all-French No. 8 Peugeot. Photo credit: Rick Dole for Michelin North America

Within a few tenths of Audi on the test day, Peugeot saved its full hand from showing until the last ILMC round at Spa, when they won. Any of the three entries could get Peugeot back to the top of the podium. One gets the sense the all-French effort of Montagny, Sarrazin and Minassian is due a result here. Wurz and Gene won with David Brabham in 2009; Davidson is no Brabham, but still more than capable over 24 hours. Few match Brabham’s resume, and the Australian won’t have a chance to add to it in 2011.

The No. 9 car is the wild card. Lamy had a pit incident in 2009 that set the team back and the team barely made it past two hours last year. Bourdais is keen to get one victory at his home circuit and if there’s anything sports car fans know about Simon Pagenaud, he is the model of modest humility and blinding speed. Pagenaud starred at the 12 Hours of Sebring for Highcroft Racing this year and would be a popular winner at Le Mans.

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