On Friday, Peugeot unveiled the final homologated version of the 9X8 prototype it plans to start racing from July this year. Months of testing and tweaking resulted in a product that looked slightly different than what was unveiled last year, but none of these changes deviate from the original radical plan of building a modern racing car without a rear wing. In fact, the design changes are certainly more unique and arguably more radical than what has already been revealed.
We won’t know if the final product is really fast until it shows up at the Monza races in a few months. In fact, the car’s delays from a schedule that would have allowed it to compete at Le Mans this year might suggest it was a disappointment, at least in its earliest testing. Even if not, it should be celebrated.
More than any other form of motorsport, sports car racing is about the cars. The reputation of Le Mans rests on them. The Mercedes 300 SL, Ford GT and Ferrari 250 GTO are all directly linked to a Le Mans winner from the same family. Both individual high-performance cars and the brands that make them made their mark in sports car racing, and that reputation carries over into road cars to this day. The magic of racing is that it inspires these manufacturers to create unique things, to re-imagine what it means to go fast and transfer that technology into their most exciting road cars.
Manufacturers only made large fluctuations in the middle of the last decade. Nissan sponsored the spectacular Deltawing, sure, but their biggest innovation was the car, which they built themselves with that program’s lead engineer, Ben Bowlby. The resulting GT-R LM was a front-wheel drive that fired in the dark, and although it was scuttled in its first race over reliability concerns and never developed in earnest from then, it was proof that the manufacturers still ready to go crazy in pursuit of speed. Peugeot is the latest in this line, a sports car that breaks away from over ten years of cars from all manufacturers that look a lot like the Audi R18 to do something very different.
The headline is that the 9X8 is racing without a rear wing. Two winglets on the car’s endplates make this description slightly less accurate than the original concept, but the idea survives to the final car. The end result of this design decision is the most unique prototype since the Deltawing. It doesn’t look like much in photos out. That makes it fascinating in the same way that expressive art can be, as if it were a puzzle waiting to be solved. It’s definitely not pretty, but it still looks extremely good. The company behind the 908, one of the most conventionally handsome prototypes in recent history, took an entirely different approach.
Whether the 9X8 has what it takes to be a competitive racer we’ll find out in July, but I think it’s already a success story. Sports car racing is about pushing the boundaries in memorable ways, which the 9X8 is guaranteed to already be able to do. We should all be grateful Peugeot was brave enough to try and doubly grateful if they’re still interested in driving it as a Dodge here.
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