MOTORSPORT: In a shock move Peugeot have announced they are to withdraw from the World Endurance Championship and participation in the Le Mans 24-Hour Race with immediate effect, writes James Beckett.
The French manufacturer has been a major powerhouse on the Le Mans track since 2007 when it entered the endurance scene with its diesel-powered 908.
Lead driver for the Peugeot team since 2007 has been former Buckingham University student, Marc Gene, and the announcement from Peugeot Sport came as a big shock to him and the rest of the Peugeot drivers and team staff.“This was something we were not expecting,” Gene said. “I was in Doha driving for Ferrari in an exhibition event when I heard the news. I couldn’t believe it and it is very sad.”
Gene was triumphant in each season the Peugeot 908 ran in competition, and tasted victory champagne at Le Mans in 2009 when he won the famous race with David Brabham and Alexander Wurz. Recently he has been teamed with Brackley’s Anthony Davidson in the squad. Davidson also registered his disappointment at the news, saying: “The Peugeot team were very successful and their decision to withdraw from the new World Endurance Championship and Le Mans is upsetting.”
With the new FIA World Endurance Championship starting this season, the organisers of the series, the French-based Automobile Club de l’Ouest, were looking forward to manufacturer competition between Peugeot and Audi. With Peugeot gone from the competition, hopes now rest on Toyota developing their new car quickly in order to be competitive ahead of the Le Mans race in June.
Gene added: “I have had a good relationship with Peugeot and since 2007 I have really enjoyed driving the Peugeot 908. It was a superb car and I know it would have been more than capable of winning Le Mans this year.”
He added: “I am now looking at options for Le Mans and the World Endurance Championship and will be speaking to teams and manufacturers over the next few days to see if anything is possible for 2012 and beyond.
“Although at this stage of proceedings it will not be easy to confirm an agreement with a car capable of winning Le Mans. I have to be realistic.”
The Peugeot 908 has become a casualty of the economic crisis, with Peugeot in France deciding it better to safeguard private car sales over the costs of a motorsport programme.
A Peugeot spokesman said: “We do not rule out a return to competition, but for now we must focus on the long term development of our range of road cars and projects.”