Gustavo Menezes says it has so far been “exciting and humbling” to be involved in the development of Peugeot’s Le Mans Hypercar for the FIA World Endurance Championship.
The 26-year-old American was named in February as a member of Peugeot’s driver lineup for its return to endurance racing next year. His signing came after two strong seasons with Rebellion Racing in LMP1, including a race-winning campaign in 2019-20.
Menezes, who drove in Peugeot’s simulator during his first visit to the company’s Versailles-Satory racing facility last week, told Sportscar365 that his maiden factory team role on a new car involves a higher degree of engineering input than past projects.
“The Rebellion was a little plug-and-play,” he said. “That doesn’t mean that it didn’t need development, but this is really from grassroots in every single way from driveability, powertrain, aerodynamics and everything else.
“Every input from the beginning makes a difference in the direction we go with the car.
“It’s just very exciting. It’s something I’ve personally never experienced, but the staff have been very welcoming and open.
“They’re all here with a common goal and aren’t judging your experience or age. They’re just saying, ‘let’s make the best car possible’. So it’s really exciting and humbling.”
Menezes explained that Peugeot’s LMH technical team has been “absorbing” feedback from the drivers who have visited Satory and tried out the simulator in recent weeks.
Loic Duval, Paul di Resta and simulator tester James Rossiter are known to have sampled the Peugeot LMH in its virtual form. A physical car is expected to emerge later this year.
Menezes reckons that the mixture of youth and experience that Peugeot has emphasized in its driving squad will ultimately benefit the car’s development and performance.
“I’m 26 and have had five years in WEC, which is pretty rare for someone of my age,” said Menezes, who was 22 when he won the 2016 LMP2 class title with Signatech Alpine.
“It’s been pretty special to give my inputs because at the end of the day, we all have one goal: to have success and win Le Mans. Every input I make, it’s really nice seeing the engineers take notes and absorbing everyone’s feedback so we can contribute to this project.
“At the same time, as much as my contributions hopefully affect the development of the car, it’s really nice that we have some experienced guns here who have been involved in the development of every type of car, from Formula 1 to factory programs in the past.
“All of us coming together will definitely make a big progress for this project.
“A lot of our input is just making the future driveability of the car where it needs to be. It comes in the early stages and will definitely make the win at Le Mans – if we can get one – a lot more sweet when it’s your baby that you’ve been a part of since day one.”
Car Development “Still in Early Days”
When asked about how the Peugeot LMH car’s development is progressing, Menezes suggested that the manufacturer has been careful not to rush through its schedule.
Peugeot revealed its variable four-wheel-drive powertrain in December. The unit consists of a 2.6-liter V6 internal combustion engine linked to a 200 kW electric motor.
The company has given itself a broad target for its LMH competition debut, mapping out 2022 but not specifying a particular race or date.
“It’s still early stages here, so the first thing was just meeting the technical staff and getting in a mock-up,” said Menezes, who is set to move from the U.S to Europe as he embarks on LMH programs with Peugeot in the long-term and Glickenhaus in 2021.
“Obviously they’re in the first design phases of what the new LMH car will be, so they’ve been taking the time to work with all the drivers and see what our fitments will be for the future car.
“Everything else, including simulators, is still in early days. So just slowly putting some of the work in.
“It’s actually been a little bit more time behind the desk and just meeting people. But I’m sure there will be a lot of laps to turn at some parts of this year.”