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Off Season Endurance Update: Peugeot 90X

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On: Tue, Nov 2, 2010 at 10:25AM | By: John Welch

Off Season Endurance Update: Peugeot 90X

Endurance racing is exciting. Very exciting. The action and strategy is grind your teeth to dust-exciting during both the LMS and ALMS seasons, and even more so, to a point, during the winter off season. You can expect a newly designed NASCAR stocker once every, what? two decades?! Boring . . . In the modern era you get a fresh Indy Car every 12 to fourteen years. Formula 1 cars are "new" every season but the rules are so restricted that the innovations are minimal at best. Open-form endurance racing produces new ideas, cars and teams nearly every season. If you enjoy motorsports, technology, or "design" in general and endurance racing doesn't quicken your pulse . . . well, you may want to consult a physician. There is a good chance you're stone dead.

Rule changes meant to decrease cost and increase safety are a part of all racing formats in this new decade, an inescapable side effect of a crappy world economy and our increasingly sissified international society. Other forms of motorsports suffer from these changes whereas top flight endurance racing just gets more exciting. Look at the header image that accompanies this article. The Peugeot prototype pictured doesn't immediately seem all that different from the diesels squishing 908's we are used to. The orange arrows point out differences between this so-named "90X" and it's 908 HPDi progenitor. It is NOT the same car, though it is possible they share the same basic carbon fiber passenger compartment. Each of those annoying arrows points to a modification that has been made on the name of rules compliance, or, unlike most motorsport, out right speed. There is a billboard affectionately named "Big Honking Fin" by the Internet, different side pods, goose-neck attachments for the rear wing, a new engine intake and so on. We cover each of those arrows inside this post; hopefully we get our hands on images of the next Audi soon . . .

There is a lot of info to cover here, so let’s get to it. In case you think I'm the eagle-eyed former engineer who caught all of these changes . . . well, I have a cheat-sheet. His name is Marshall Pruett and I never would have noticed some of these intricacies without him. On to the intrigue!

1. Goose-Neck or Swan style rear wing mounts : The air flow traveling over the rear wing of any given race car provides a significant amount of the cars' downforce. Downforce is needed for high cornering speeds, which are needed for winning races. Duh. The rear wing also creates a ton of drag, which slows the car down on straightaway’s, sometimes negating the speed advantage gained from bonzi cornering. By attaching the rear wing to the chassis of the prototype with Goose-Neck pillars, the underside of the wing has more surface area for creating downforce, as well as less disturbance in the air pressure underneath the wing. Basically, the Goose Neck arrangement provides more downforce and less drag. Introduced by Acura/Wirth Engineering in 2009, this feature should make its way to almost all sports racing cars.

2. Rear End Plate Enhancement : Looking at the old 908, this area of bodywork was stubby and appeared to be an afterthought. For 2011, Peugeot has adopted a longer, more sculpted rear "fence", similar in design to the Audi R15 Plus. This feature should smooth out airflow as it leaves the car, again reducing drag. This is the first of many 90X innovations that may have been inspired by the menacing Audi.

3. Smaller fender mounted intakes : The 908 used these ovoid ducts to route air into the diesel 12's engine intake, that no longer seems to be their purpose. Much smaller than the ducts seen on the 908, the 90X fender scoops are more likely responsible for brake or transmission cooling. The engine intake has moved to the roof of the car, which will be covered in a moment . . .

4. Front Fender shape/purpose : A Le Mans prototype is extremely similar to Formula 1 cars in design. Take away the tacked-on fenders and you have, essentially, an advanced open wheel race car. A fender less 908 would absolutely devour and Indy Car for instance. The shape of the 90X's front pylon's has changed, and the way they interact with the cars' sidepods appears to have become more functional. Again, possibly inspired by the R15 Plus, these changes should help to better route air flow around and underneath the chassis, once again improving downforce. The original 908 was so dominant for it's entire reign, (1007 to 2010,) that it did not require frequent aero-updates seen on many competitors. This is a design solution that may have been implemented earlier, were it deemed necessary.

5. Front Wheel Size : Take a look at the front wheels on the 908HPDi. The offset is mild; the spokes of the rim sitting flush with its outer lip. Now look at the 90X. That is not a flush wheel, leading some to believe that Peugeot might be eyeing the Acura playbook again. The Acura ARX-02a, though hopelessly out-classed during race conditions, was able to steal the 2009 12 Hours of Sebring pole away from Audi and Peugeot because it was able to corner at unbelievable speeds, and hold those speeds through Sebring's fastest sweepers. Bumpy and uneven, the Acura held its grip through these corners because it used the same size tires on both the front and rear wheels. More tire equals more contact patch equals more grip, though the Acura teams soon learned that it also took a lot more heat to get the tires to grip than was required of staggered set ups.

It is rumored that Audi may try this solution with their 90X competitor, the R18, but here Audi throws us for another loop. They will utilize a grandfathered R15 Plus for the 2011 Sebring race, and though the R15 has a sunken offset rim, like the 90X pictured here, that is all it is, an off set rim. The tires themselves are of normal size, about 15 mm more narrow than the rear tires. It looks like they are running wider front tires but they're not. What is Peugeot up to then? We will just have to wait and see . . .

6. Nose and Crash Structure reshaping : This is the part where I doff my cap to Mr. Pruett. I never would have noticed that the 90X is running with a radically reshaped nose, if it wasn't for him. At first glance, the noses of the 908 and 90X look exactly the same; upon closer inspection the differences between the two become glaringly apparent. The 908 has always featured a raised, Formula 1 type nose, but the 90X takes the concept one stage further by reducing the frontal area of the nose at least three inches, side to side. Fans of the original Can-Am Series will recognize this solution as an age-old truth in aerodynamics: less frontal area creating drag translates directly to more speed. Less drag - more speed, simple!

7. Roof Top Engine Feeder : As mentioned earlier, it does not appear that the fender mounted air scoops on the 90X are needed for supplying the engine with atmosphere. The 90X has sprouted a roof-mounted engine intake, and it is purty damn attractive. Who doesn't like big scoops hanging off their favorite race cars? Isn't this the reason Pep Boys stays in business? Let me know when the 90X poops out some port holes; then I'll barf all over my lap and hang myself . . .

8. BlowOver Legality Fin : Finally we come to the ACO mandated "big honking fin". It's hard to spot without any livery on it; in some of the images released by Peugeot it appears as if it is the concrete barrier behind the car. When the racing season rolls around that thing will be a freaking billboard. Anyone can say it's ugly as sin, but none of the teams will argue with the extra money this new signage space will bring in. It is ugly as sin, but then so is an entire Daytona Prototype. Or a NASCAR. Dreadfully uninviting to the eye. The big honking fin isn't going to affect a Le Mans prototype's curb appeal at the K-Mart car show anytime soon.

The fin is regulated in size and height, and though there is a little wiggle room concerning how large it can be, there isn't much. The purpose of the fin is to prevent blow-over accidents, seen with alarming frequency in 2008. An Audi, a Courage and a Peugeot all left the ground that year, forcing the ACO to come up with a safety measure that could be implemented on all LMP cars. This is what they came up with. At least they didn't screw around with the cockpits or wheelbases or anything. The 2008 wrecks were bad enough that they could have caused rule-making overkill from the ACO, ending up with cars made from potato skin and powered by hamster wheels. One stupid fin, which I’m already used to seeing on Formula 1 cars, isn't that big a deal. "Safety" has a tendency to make people lose their ess a little, this could have been much worse.

So there you have it. Seems like a ton of information, but we've only scratched the surface. For instance: the 908 HPDi was powered by a 5.5 liter turbo diesel vee twelve, outlawed for 2011. The rules stipulate no more than 3.7 liters for diesel power plants, so to continue with diesel requires a whole new drivetrain. Switching to a gas engine, or gas/electric hybrid, or diesel/electric hybrid, would all require the same investment in time and money. This is that "innovation" stuff that other forms of racing so sorely lack.

Look for more updates regarding 2011 LMP cars in the near future . . .

Also, by the way, Peugeot has produced a gas powered prototype in the past . ..

Sorry 'bout all the French . . .

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