Team Peugeot Total heads into the 2009 season with one objective in mind: conquering Le Mans. The factory French squad unveiled its plan of attack Monday, which includes a two-car entry in the American Le Mans Series season-opening Twelve Hours of Sebring and three 908 HDi-FAPs competing in the European-based Le Mans Series' Spa 1000km round, all leading up to an full-out assault on the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June.
Following last year's runner-up finish at Circuit de La Sarthe, in what was considered one of the most exciting duels in recent memory, Peugeot will return with three diesel-powered LMP1 coupes in hopes of offsetting Audi's near decade-long stranglehold of Le Mans. It's driver line-up this year has been strengthened with the signing of sportscar veteran David Brabham and the return of Formula One driver Sebastien Bourdais.
With his countless years of sportscar success under his belt, Brabham is with no doubt now the most experienced driver on Peugeot's roster. The 43-year-old Australian has two Le Mans class victories to his credit but is in search of his elusive first overall crown. Brabham's past experience working with factory teams such as Toyota, Panoz, Bentley, Aston Martin and current Acura ALMS program with Patron Highcroft Racing could help elevate he and Peugeot to the top step of the podium.
"I'm absolutely delighted to be asked to drive the Le Mans 24 Hours with Peugeot Sport and I am very grateful to Duncan Dayton and Patron Highcroft Racing, John Mendel and Acura, and Erik Berkman at Honda Performance Development for giving me their blessing to race once again in this historic event," Brabham said. "It's been fantastic to be able to win the GT1 class for the past two years and this drive gives me a great opportunity to go for outright victory and three wins in a row."
Brabham will get his first race experience of the 908 HDi-FAP at Spa-Francorchamps in May, where eight of the team's nine drivers are expected to take part in the 1000km race. Bourdais will be the only driver absent, due to his Formula One commitments with Toro Rosso. The 30-year-old Frenchman returns to Peugeot after scoring a podium finish in the team's debut at Le Mans in 2007.
Peugeot's driver line-up remains relatively intact from last year, with Brabham and Bourdais replacing Jacques Villeneuve and Ricardo Zonta. Bourdais will join Franck Montagny and Stephane Sarrazin in the No. 8 entry for Sebring, with Nicolas Minassian, Pedro Lamy and Christian Klien making up the driving strength in the No. 7 car. Brabham, Marc Gene and Alexander Wurz will be in a third car for Spa and Le Mans.
Plans beyond these three endurance events are still up in the air, as the focus is on its unfinished business at Le Mans. Olivier Quesnel replaced Michel Barge as Peugeot Sport's director during the winter and has been leading the team through an aggressive testing program.
"Our busy test program notably includes endurance simulation tests at a variety of circuits, and we will take part in two races upstream of Le Mans which will serve as full- scale dress rehearsals for everyone in the team," Quesnel said. "We haven't yet decided what our program after the Le Mans 24 Hours will be. We are looking at the different options to ensure the best possible exposure for the brand in promotional and media coverage terms, and also as a function of the level of competition."
After coming up short at Le Mans last year, a number of improvements have been made to the car, which enters its third season of competition. An optimized traction control system, along with improved radiator ventilation and revised aerodynamics conforming to 2009 regulations kept the squad busy during the off-season.
"At the same time, we are working on enhancing the car's performance potential," said technical director Bruno Famin. "This includes ongoing work on weight reduction in a bid to get close to the minimum limit, even with air conditioning, as well as optimization of the diesel engine's combustion, particulate filters (in association with Dow) and fuel injection (with Bosch), plus research into defining best possible chassis/tire package (with Michelin)."
The French Lions will face fierce competition from Acura and Audi at Sebring, both of which will be debuting its new LMP1 machines. With Peugeot coming back stateside even stronger this time, could its third ALMS appearance be the charm?