Nancy Knapp Schilke, Le Mans correspondent
French automaker PSA Peugeot Citroen announced this morning that they will not contest the new 2012 World Endurance Championship; including the 24 Hours of Le Mans race. They cited economic reasons for their pull out of endurance racing. The sleek prototype using diesel engines was one of the top teams in sportscar Le Mans-style racing.
The reason was stated in their press release: “This decision has been taken against the backdrop of the challenging economic environment in Europe coupled with a particularly busy year for the Brand in terms of new vehicle launches. In this context, Peugeot prefers to concentrate its 2012 resources on its commercial performance and, in particular, ensuring the successful launches of the 208, 3008 HYbrid4, 508 RXH, 508 HYbrid4 and 4008 which will take forward the Brand's strategy of moving upmarket and extending its global presence.”
In November, 2011, the Peugeot 908s scored their second title in the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup at the Zhuhai circuit. The team ended up with six victories out of the seven races and they wrapped up their 2011 season with a one-two finish at the event in China. Anthony Davidson and Sebastien Bourdais claimed the win in a very close finish over their teammates Franck Montagny and Stephane Sarrazin.
When Peugeot announced their 908 HDi FAP, the prototype received a lot of comments both about the performance on the track and the design. They were one of only two teams that were using diesel engines and it did not take long for Peugeot to show that they were a top contender to take not only race wins but championships as well. The Audi Sport team was their main rival and over the past years, the German and French teams have put on a show in venues worldwide.
In 2007, Peugeot notched the Le Mans Series title and in 2009, they scored a 1-2 finish at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. In 2009, the French “lions” again landed the victory at Le Mans. Before they arrived in China to take their back-to-back ILMC title, the French team scored the Petit Le Mans event at the Road America road course in Georgia.
In 2010, Peugeot’s Director of Marketing and Communications, Xavier Peugeot said, “At Peugeot, we have always sought to associate our commitment to motorsport with the real world and with our model range. The name 908 consequently stood out as the obvious choice.“
Peugeot contested the 24 Hours of Le Mans with the Hdi-FAP 908 and 908. Jean-Claude Plassart, Président de l’Automobile Club de l’Ouest: "It is a big disappointment for the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the FIA World Endurance Championship, which begins in the year 2012. A competition created at the request of manufacturers in general and in particular Peugeot. No doubt the hundreds of thousands of fans who flock to the 24 Hours of Le Mans each year and millions of viewers who follow will regret the absence of the Peugeot 'lions'."
Ironically the news broke on the opening day of the World Rally Championship’s Monte Carlo Rally where Citroen is defending their 2011 championship with the eight time WRC driver title held by Sebastien Loeb and co-driver Daniel Elena. The Frenchman’s contract with Citroen ends after the 2013 season now one wonders if Citroen will also end its program at that time; if not sooner. For Loeb, it may not matter as he has already been contesting sportscar races in France and has raced on the La Sarthe circuit twice and announced his plans to field his own sportscar racing team as he stated toward the end of the 2011 WRC season: “This isn’t a one-shot deal. We want to build a serious and professional team, which will be there for the long haul. It’s a real challenge: we can’t underestimate the size of it. But that’s also what’s good about it. I’m going to discover new aspects, aspects that will represent my future, and which will allow me to stay in racing and therefore keep living my passion.”
Four-time CART (IndyCar) champion Sebastien Bourdais, who hails from Le Mans, was one of the winning drivers for Peugeot for the past few years and helped the French marque to score their titles. Bourdais recently signed a deal to race full-time in the IndyCar Series.
That leaves Davidson, Montagny, Sarrazin and Nicolas Minassian without rides for 2012 and no word was mentioned as to their contracts with PSA.
In September of 2011, Peugeot’s new 908 HYbird4 did test runs on the Estoril circuit in Portugal. At the time, Peugeot Sport’s Technical Director Bruno Famin said, “Our aim wasn’t to put a lot of kilometres on the clock, but to verify that all the chief functions performed. It was important to analyse the data of each run to be sure we understood the results before moving on to the next step. The system functioned well and responded as predicted, which was very satisfying. At the same time, we started to make a few adjustments to the car’s basic set-up. It worked well, so that’s very positive.”
For now Peugeot has only stated that they have closed down their 2012 program so they have left the door opened for a future return.