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27/03/2024 News

Interview Olivier Jansonnie

Paris, March 27th 2024 - Peugeot Sport Technical Director, Olivier Jansonnie has just unveiled the 2024 PEUGEOT 9X8, Team Peugeot TotalEnergies’ new weapon for the FIA World Endurance Championship, featuring an exceptional livery embodying the power of working together. Ahead of its highly-anticipated competitive début at round two of the FIA WEC at Imola (21 April), he talked to us about how the car was created and the working relationship between TotalEnergies and Peugeot Sport.

“The target is clearly to get back among the frontrunners, fight regularly for podiums and even challenge for race wins.”

How do you feel now that the 2024 PEUGEOT 9X8 has been unveiled? Relieved or eager for what comes next?

Above all, I feel quite proud because we have been working on this project now for just over a year and although it’s not a completely new car, it has still been very substantially overhauled. It took a lot of work to achieve that, work that we had to at the same time as running the team competitively last season. I’m very proud that we have been able to unveil the 2024 PEUGEOT 9X8 on schedule, exactly when we planned. We hit all of the project milestones.

The project to develop the car began in March 2023. Tell us about the collective effort it required to create it at the same time as taking part in the highly-competitive FIA WEC with the 2023 PEUGEOT 9X8…

Our design teams had to work on two different fronts, managing changes in the homologation of the 2023 car at the same time as developing what is essentially a new car. For the operational teams in charge of performance, they also had to keep improving the 2023 car whilst monitoring developments on the 2024 project. So a whole second workload was added throughout this period for the team. It was also crucial that we kept taking everything we were learning from running the 2023 car and incorporating it into development of the 2024 version. The specifications therefore changed slightly between March 2023 and the point at which they were finalised in September/October, so we could factor in what we had learned, especially from Le Mans.

What was the thought process that led to this 2024 version of the PEUGEOT 9X8?

Originally, we had made choices that are no longer the right ones now, given the changes to the technical regulations. The difference in performance these changes made was not sufficiently offset by the BOP (Balance of Performance) in 2023. The idea was therefore to go back to a car design that is a lot closer to that of our rivals, so that it would then be given equivalent treatment by the BOP. This is why we decided to drop the use of equal 31cm tyre widths on all the wheels, choosing to fit 29cm tyres at the front and 34cm tyres at the rear. Strictly speaking, it’s not a new car, as it has the same chassis, but there are a lot of upgrades. For the tyres to work effectively, we had to alter the centre of gravity of the PEUGEOT 9X8, which meant moving certain components and working on making others lighter. And in order to have a better aerodynamic balance, we also had to look at redistributing the aerodynamic loads, which resulted in us redesigning approximately 90% of the bodywork components, most notably adding the rear wing. As well as all of this, we decided to use this new homologation to add some reliability and performance upgrades to give us the best possible chance in the championship.

You have just completed an endurance test session at MotorLand Aragón: is Peugeot Sport’s new beast ready for Imola?

Absolutely, yes, the car is ready to start in Imola. Since it had its first track outing in early December 2023, the 2024 car has covered something like 8,000km in testing. Having said that, the purpose of the kind of endurance test session we have just completed is to prepare for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and it’s probably a little bit too early to say that we are ready for that. But we will have at least one more endurance session and further test sessions between now and Le Mans to fine-tune our preparations, even though you can never be completely ready for what is an incredible technical and human challenge.

What target have you set yourselves for the rest of the season?

The target is clearly to get back among the frontrunners, fight regularly for podiums and even challenge for race wins. We were able to rely on the unwavering commitment of Team Peugeot TotalEnergies in developing this 2024 PEUGEOT 9X8 and we’re now really looking forward to showing off the result of the hard work. The car is inherently quicker. Having said that, we must remain realistic – our rivals were well ahead of us. We’re sure that we have at least partially closed the gap, but we’ll have to wait for the first few races to see by just how much. We will of course need to keep working on the car, because in terms of set-up, the 2024 car is still a bit rough around the edges compared to the 2023 version. The weight distribution is different and as are the tyres, so their operating window has shifted and the issues encountered are also different. We’ll need to get to grips with all these aspects, but then again, that’s to be expected since we have a substantially different car.

The 24 Hours of Le Mans will be the highlight of the season once again. What makes this event so special?

I think there are several reasons. Technically, the track is very specific, with the cars running a very high engine load and reaching top speeds that are the highest of the season. From a sporting point of view, the track is off limits for everyone as regards testing, so every time we come to Le Mans, we all have to re-acclimatise. And that means experience really counts here, the fact of having already raced on the track. We competed here in 2023 and learned an awful lot. Racing incidents are also managed differently at Le Mans, with the Slow Zones that you only get here and with which you need to get to grips. Most importantly, there is also the legendary, iconic dimension of this historic race and the significant pressure that comes with competing in such a world famous event and in front of the huge crowds it draws.

With Lamborghini, Alpine, BMW and Isotta Fraschini joining you in taking part in the Hypercar class, where there are already Ferrari, Porsche, Toyota and Cadillac, a total of nine manufacturers are currently competing at the elite level of the WEC. Are we witnessing the golden age of Endurance racing? And how do you explain it?

In terms of the number of manufacturers competing in the championship, then yes, it’s undoubtedly the sport’s golden age. I think there are several factors that have led to this situation. Generally speaking, the appeal of Le Mans has remained very strong, both among fans and manufacturers. I think we also have technical regulations that are now quite open, with two different types of platform. LMDh, where manufacturers are allowed – mainly on the chassis – to use components developed by an external supplier. That is the first business model. Our model, LMH, which is also the one adopted by Isotta Fraschini, Toyota and Ferrari, is to come with a car fully developed by the manufacturer. So you could say that the regulations were designed in a sufficiently clever way to allow different visions, with a Balance of Performance system that aims to even out the differences. The regulations are equally intended to limit expenditure, bringing spending back to a more reasonable level than had been the case in recent years.

Is that why Team Peugeot TotalEnergies is competing in the FIA WEC?

We feel that the cost-benefit ratio works for us, comparing the profile and media coverage of the championship with the investment involved. It also matches our desire to promote technologies, which is why our car is entered in LMH, where four-wheel drive hybrid cars feature more prominently. There is also the iconic, historic aspect. Peugeot’s record at Le Mans, where it has already won several times, means that the team is seen as a legitimate contender.

What are the different aspects of your working relationship with TotalEnergies?

TotalEnergies has been at our side since we first became involved in the sport, and its teams are constantly on hand to provide technical support on everything to do with lubricants: hydraulic fluids, transmission fluids and engine lubricants. In addition to this expertise, they also provide us with operational support, especially during testing, where they conduct analyses of lubricants. This helps us assess the condition of the car’s various components. They can also tell us, by taking oil samples, if there are traces of such and such metal in the gearbox. This means we find out a little bit in advance about how our parts are degrading during the test sessions. This is very useful information when it comes to preparing for races. The second part of our technical partnership concerns the battery used on the car, which we jointly developed with SAFT, the TotalEnergies subsidiary.