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Mueller Has “Realistic” Goals For New 9X8 Race Debut

Nico Mueller hoping for “just a clean weekend” and a points finish as much-anticipated 9X8 2024 races for first time…

Photo: MPS Agency

Peugeot driver Nico Mueller says he is keeping his expectations in check for this weekend’s 6 Hours of Imola as the French marque’s revised 9X8 makes its FIA World Endurance Championship race debut.

The 9X8 2024 was revealed last month, notably adding a rear wing and switching to wider rear tires in common with the rest of the Hypercar field, following the original version of the car’s final outing in the season-opening Qatar 1812km.

While Peugeot performed well in Qatar with the ‘wingless’ iteration of the 9X8, only losing a second-place finish with a late refueling problem, Mueller is not expecting such a strong showing this time around as the team learns more about the new car.

“To some extent, for sure yes,” Mueller said when asked if Peugeot will treat the Imola weekend as a learning exercise. “Whenever you go racing you want to achieve a good result, but I think we have to be realistic.

“It’s our first race with the new car, and it’s a track that we haven’t tested at, and it has pretty specific characteristics. We will need a bit of time to get ourselves in a good working window. It will be a challenging weekend from a performance perspective. 

“[We are targeting] a clean weekend, just get through the race with no issues, and come away with a few points. I think that would be something to consider as a positive.”

Mueller added that the so-called ‘Homologation Parameters’ awarded to the new 9X8 under the Balance of Performance came as a “small surprise” with the new car weighing in at 1061 kg and running with a maximum power of 510 kW.

“We ended up being the heaviest car, and quite a bit lower on power than what we used to have,” said the Swiss driver. “It is what it is, we trust the process and we have to see how it is out on track compared to the other cars out there.”

Despite his modest expectations for this weekend’s Imola round, Mueller said he is convinced of the new car’s potential in testing.

“The car feels more connected,” he said. “We’ve had limited time with it, we’re still learning it, so it’s a bit hard to judge how big that step is, whether it is enough to put the big dogs under pressure. But it feels better for sure.

“It responds to setup changes a bit more logically, it’s slightly easier to get it in the working window.

“When the old car was inside the window, it was performing ok, which we saw on occasions at Le Mans, in Qatar, but that working window was extremely narrow. With this car we have a wider window to extract performance. That’s the biggest difference.”

Stoffel Vandoorne gave a similar assessment of the new 9X8’s potential, describing it as feeling “much more like an actual race car” compared to its predecessor.

“The car changed much more than I anticipated,” said the Belgian. “You have the visible things like the rear wing and the tires, but it brings other implications like the weight distribution, and the whole bodywork shape is different.

“Under the covers there are a lot of new parts, a lot of new bits that have been developed. Clearly the car is a step forward and faster than the previous one.”

However, Vandoorne also warned that not all of the changes have been positive, adding: “For example, the smaller front tires make locking more of a problem.

“Last year we were limited by the rear axle, now the rear axle seems better and it’s more of a front limitation.”

Davey Euwema contributed to this report

Jamie Klein is Sportscar365's Asian editor. Japan-based Klein, who previously worked for Motorsport Network on the Motorsport.cоm and Autosport titles, covers the FIA World Endurance Championship and SUPER GT, among other series.

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