In my opinion the best race cars are the ones that look the wildest and most futuristic, especially when they're used to preview future production designs and technologies. My favorite class is typically the LMP cars that race at Le Mans and other FIA World Endurance Championship events -- these prototypes typically look like sketches that a 5-year-old would produce, in the best possible way. With the onset of a new Le Mans Hypercar class next year, Peugeot is jumping back into the ring with its new 9X8 race car, and hoo boy is it awesome.
Not to be confused with the upcoming LMDh class, the Le Mans Hypercar class is new for this year, though the 9X8 won't race until 2022. LMH essentially replaces the LMP1 class, and while onlyand will field entrants this year, next year the Peugeot will be joined by a ByKolles rival and then a in 2023. (Aston Martin planned a Valkyrie LMH race car, but canceled it in favor of a variant for customers.) LMH cars are limited to a maximum power output of 670 horsepower, though there are no other restrictions on engine type or size aside from a minimum weight of 364 pounds. There's a 2,270-pound minimum weight limit, and LMH cars can't exceed 200 inches in length or have a wheelbase longer than 124 inches or a width greater than 79 inches. Most excitingly, the LMH class has almost no restrictions on chassis, aerodynamics or body style, resulting in the wild 9X8.
The 9X8 looks much wilder than any of the LMH cars we've seen so far, not to mention any previous LMP racers (save for maybe the front-wheel-drive Nissan GT-R LM Nismo). Design Director Matthias Hossann says the initial sketch was of "a big cat ready to pounce," and Peugeot focused on tying the 9X8's styling in with the brand's road cars. Its front end prominently features Peugeot's new illuminated lion logo and rectangular light housings with three vertical claw elements, while the taillights are huge slashes that extend off the bodywork. I especially love the designs of the fenders, which have cutouts that show off the tires, angular surfacing around the holes and integrated mirrors at the front. The mix of soft surfacing, strange detailing and superhard lines and scoops makes the 9X8 look like it came straight out of Blade Runner or Cyberpunk 2077 in the best way.
But the biggest design feature that sets the 9X8 apart from almost every other race car regardless of class is its complete lack of a rear wing. A fairly low tail fin extends nearly all the way back off of the roof scoop, and there's a fin coming off each rear fender, but that's it. This is possible thanks to the LMH class' much less strict regulations surrounding aerodynamics -- one adjustable aerodynamic device is permitted, and it doesn't have to be a rear wing -- so Peugeot is able to produce tons of downforce through aero trickery that it's keeping a secret, though we suspect the 9X8's diffuser and underbody play a big part, as LMH rules don't require a flat floor. Stellantis motorsport director Jean-Marc Finot calls the lack of wing "a major innovative step," as it's the first real time a race car hasn't used a wing since the Chaparral 2F pioneered them, and the rear of the car even has a cheeky sticker that reads "We didn't want a rear wing" with an arrow pointing up.
The interior is just as absurd as the outside, which usually isn't the case with race cars. Hossann points out that race car interiors are typically purely functional with no ties to road cars or the brand's identity, so the design team styled the 9X8's interior to match Peugeot's i-Cockpit production themes. Its blocky steering wheel, dashboard and sculpted seat give it a 1980s look in my eyes, and there's a minimal amount of switchgear. The exterior's Selenium Grey paintwork is contrasted with Kryptonite acid green accents, the signature color scheme for Peugeot's Sport Engineered hybrid production cars, and all of the interior's upholstery is slathered in the green to match. Black slashes tie in with the exterior livery, and the side windows are partially covered too.
Powering the 9X8 is a twin-turbo 2.6-liter 90-degree V6 engine with 680 hp mounted in the middle of the car that's paired with a 268-hp electric motor mounted at the front axle. This hybrid setup provides the 9X8 with all-wheel drive and a total output of 670 hp, and it uses a seven-speed sequential gearbox and a 900-volt battery co-developed by Peugeot and Total Energies. Peugeot has been running the powertrain on its test beds since April, focusing on reliability and efficiency -- that's what really wins Le Mans, not outright speed.
Two 9X8s will compete in the 2022 WEC season, though Peugeot hasn't said which events it will race in. The 9X8s will be driven by a diverse team of drivers that includes former Formula One drivers, Le Mans and Formula E champions, and experienced endurance drivers. Peugeot won Le Mans in 1992 and 1993 with the rad 905, then again in 2009 with the diesel V12–powered 908 hybrid. The 9X8 name directly references those two predecessors, with the X representing the car's AWD system. While I'm excited for the Hypercar class regardless of what happens, the 9X8's styling, technical innovations and history make it easy to choose which team I'm rooting for. Next summer can't come quickly enough.