World racing fans were shocked last week when Peugeot, after some real successes, abruptly withdrew from the Le Mans LMP (Le Mans Prototype) 24-hour competition.
Peugeot has had a great back-and-forth duel with Audi, both running turbodiesels, particularly last year, when the team lost by some 13.8 seconds after much lead-changing. Peugeots finished second through fifth, however, and won in 2009 (and also won the 12-hour Sebring race last year), while Audi took the crown seven years prior. Peugeot’s radical aero changes forced Audi to redesign its R18.
The reason Peugeot quit is money. Peugeot-Citröen has been struggling and has had to cut back to save 6,000 jobs. The company is putting its resources into new product launches, including hybrids.
The race in June will still be fascinating, however. You’ll see Toyota’s new entry, the TS030 hybrid (with support from a 3.4-liter V8 gas engine) and a new kind of capacitor storage. The car (above) is still testing and working out in Europe.
For those who aren’t familiar with Le Mans, you can find a very complete history here. Regulations for all-out race cars (the LMPs) keep changing, and competitors come from all over the world—from factory to professional to amateur race teams. It’s much more than Grand Prix (Formula 1) racing.
Le Mans is a grueling test of endurance for drivers and machines. The “Circuit de la Sarthe,” 8.5 miles in length, is composed of private track and public road closed and used for the race.
Le Mans is a race where up to 85% of the time is spent on full throttle, meaning immense stress on engine and drivetrain components. However, the times spent reaching maximum speed also mean tremendous wear on the brakes and suspension as cars must slow from over 200 mph (322 km/h) to around 65 mph (105 km/h) for the end of Mulsanne [the 3.7-mile-long straightaway] in a short distance.
Porsche has dominated at Le Mans for years, with 16 victories overall. Audi has 10 (of the last 12), Ferrari 9. But Peugeot radically changed things and was experimenting with a hybrid version of its 908 car before halting its Le Mans program.
This year’s race will be interesting indeed, as Toyota fields the first-ever hybrid to run at Le Mans. I would not sell it short.
If diesels and hybrids can make sense in this kind of harsh endurance racing, would that fact influence your interest in those technologies for a road car?