The 24 Hours of Le Mans is the oldest motorsports endurance race, a proving ground for performance and, surprisingly, fuel efficiency. Peugeot’s 908 diesel-electric hybrid racer, unveiled in Geneva, is set to debut at the 2012 Le Mans race.
Peugeot’s 550 horsepower 908 diesel racers were heavily favored to win last year’s, especially after taking the top four qualifying spots. However, it was Audi that took him the trophy after the Peugeots were down and out for regular repairs. This year Peugeot is still sticking with the same diesel engine formula, even though the FIA now allows hybrids to compete in the storied endurance race in an effort to both green the race, and make it more exciting. Fuel efficiency plays a huge role in endurance racing; it doesn’t matter if you have the most powerful engine by a 1,000 horsepower. If you’re always in the pits for refueling, you are going to lose. By allowing hybrids entry into this racing series, there will be fewer pit stops and more passing.
However, for 2012, Peugeot will enter a new version of its 908 racer, called the 908 HYbrid 4, which will feature the same 550 horsepower diesel 3.7 liter V8 engine now mated to a 80 horsepower electric motor. This electric motor will provide an extra “burst” of power at the push of a button, not unlike Porsche’s own 911 GT3 KERS racer. The energy recovery system will store power from the brakes in a lithium-ion battery. While it may not seem like it, the technology that goes into these hybrid racers has a direct effect on the showroom product, which can be seen in Peugeot’s own 3008 HYbrid4, the world’s first diesel-electric production car. Racing technology directly influences that cars us regular consumers buy, so before you dismiss this as some sort of “greenwashing,” remember that technologies like fuel injection, anti-lock brakes, and all-wheel drive were often found on race cars before they made it to production cars.
Peugeot’s diesel racers have dominated before, taking home the Le Mans victory in 2009 and dominating the 2010 American Le Mans series as well. They are no doubt out for blood this year, and will even be testing the 908 HYbrid4 at the pre-qualifying round at the 2011 Le Mans. It won’t make its official racing debut until next year though. I can hardly wait.
See? Hybrids CAN be exciting. More please!
Chris DeMorro is a writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to Hemis. You can follow his slow descent into madness at Sublime Burnout.