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Peugeot Hoping to Race Diesel Hybrid in Next-Year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans

The prototype made three tours of the racetrack at Silverstone, U.K., Sept. 13, but the reality of racing the 908 HY depends on meeting next year’s rules.

PARIS – The 1993 dream of Francois Castaing, who headed the former Chrysler Corp.’s engineering department at the time, to build a hybrid racecar may come true next year in Castaing’s native France, where Automobiles Peugeot has developed the 908 HY for the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The prototype hybrid racer made three tours of the racetrack at Silverstone, U.K., Sept. 13, but the reality of racing the 908 HY depends on meeting next year’s rules, says Peugeot Sport Director Michel Barge.

Peugeot battled neck-and-neck with Audi AG this year, narrowly losing the 24-hour Le Mans in France, but winning four of five races in the Le Mans Series 2008 that followed. However, the auto maker lost the championship to Audi at Silverstone when both its regular 908 racers were knocked out in accidents.

Peugeot will bring at least one 908 Le Mans racer to Road Atlanta to continue the battle against Audi at the 10-hour Petit Le Mans race in October. Audi has been racing its R10 Le Mans cars in the U.S. all season, but this only will be Peugeot’s second appearance. Peugeot finished 11th in March with a single 908 at the 12-hour Sebring race in Florida.

The 908 HY uses 600 lithium-ion cells in 10 battery packs and a 60-kW (80-hp) electric motor to recover brake energy, boost acceleration and conserve fuel for the Hdi diesel engine. Audi diesels have won the Le Mans race for the last several years due to superior fuel efficiency.

Barge says the silver-painted 908 HY could be the next Peugeot weapon in endurance racing, depending on whether the rules next year allow hybrids in the top-level LMP1 category. Rules for Le Mans are set by the Automobile Club de l’Ouest in France and essentially are copied for the European and American race series.

Castaing’s Chrysler Patriot racecar, revealed at the Detroit Auto Show in 1993, caused a stir because at the time hybrids were generally thought of as a high-mileage solution and not high-speed.

Castaing’s Patriot used natural gas in the thermal engine and a heavy fly-wheel to store brake energy. The fly-wheel was what prevented Chrysler from actually racing the Patriot in 1995 as planned, because it was too dangerous. Batteries at the time were incapable of the performance lithium-ion is promising.

The 908 HY can recover braking energy for as long as 30 seconds and then add an acceleration boost from its 60 kW motor for about 20 seconds.

Drivers can use the boost automatically on acceleration after a turn, or they can call for it on demand with a “push to pass” button. The energy also can be used to conserve an estimated 3%-5% of fuel, which would eliminate pit stops in a 24- hour race.

“The presentation of the hybrid version of the 908 Hdi FAP is the high point of our endurance program, certainly in terms of the motor-sport challenge but also in terms of using competition as a research-and-development crucible for the Peugeot brand,” Barge says.

“The use of a hybrid in endurance racing would be an opportunity for Peugeot to gain a formidable experience for the development of production cars.”

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