With the introduction of the new Hypercar class, Peugeot will try to do something unheard of in more than 50 years—win the 24 Hours of Le Mans without a rear wing. The French automaker raised a few eyebrows when the first pictures of its wingless race car became public last summer, since big rear wings have been part and parcel of racing for decades. But the 9X8 took to the track last month for its first test, and as you can see, it’s still sans aile.
The 9X8 is designed to compete under the new Hypercar rules, which are complicated and unfriendly to the casual fan. Not all Hypercars have to be hybrids, but the 9X8 is. Behind the cockpit and ahead of the rear wheels that it powers is a new 2.6 L Biturbo gasoline V6, good for 500 kW (670hp). Ahead of the driver’s feet, you’ll find a 200 kW (268 hp) electric motor-generator unit. To keep speeds safe, the total output is capped at 500 kW by the 9X8’s electronic brain.
Although the 9X8’s powertrain is all new, it’s not actually Peugeot’s first hybrid endurance racer. That honor goes to the 908 Hybrid4, which was meant to contest Le Mans in 2012. Instead, Peugeot shuttered its racing program early after an economic downturn and layoffs made such side activities untenable.
The 9X8’s aerodynamics appear less conventional than its hybrid powertrain. Instead of an emphasis on high downforce, the Hypercar rules require a downforce-to-drag ratio of 4:1, partly to keep cornering speeds sensible and partly to allow designers the freedom to use more road car styling cues without that having a deleterious effect on performance.
And what could be more road-car-like than not having a gigantic biplane attached to the back of a car?
“Our calculations and wind tunnel work have confirmed the pertinence of our decision to run without a rear wing. Along with the developments and settings this option calls for, we expect it to be validated as we test at different circuits with differing characteristics,” said Olivier Jansonnie, the technical director of Peugeot Sport’s World Endurance Championship program.
Instead of using a rear wing to push the car onto the track, the 9X8 has a specially shaped underbody that creates a ground effect instead.
The 9X8’s engine got its first dyno test last April, with the first bench test of the MGU taking place in November 2021. In December, the full powertrain was assembled and bench-tested for the first time, and the car got its first track test, which took place at Aragorn in Spain.
Peugeot has officially entered two cars into the 2022 FIA World Endurance Championship, but don’t expect to see either of them at the season opener, set to take place in Sebring, Florida, in March.
“The 9X8 will make its race debut based on its level of readiness, reliability, and competitiveness as agreed with the championship’s organizers, who we will keep regularly updated as our development program progresses,” said Stellantis Motorsport Director Jean-Marc Finot (Stellantis is Peugeot’s parent company). “We could have opted for attending selected races only, without committing to the season. That would have been possible but less coherent. Instead, we have chosen an approach that will enable the team to be fully immersed in the discipline, resulting in much closer collaboration with the organizers even if the 9X8 doesn’t contest every race as our development work and the homologation process continue.”