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Vergne Sees Peugeot as “Underdogs” in Hypercar Battle

Vergne cagey on Peugeot’s test day performance, Peugeot not among Le Mans favorites…

Photo: MPS Agency

Jean-Eric Vergne has labeled his Peugeot team “underdogs” in this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans after a low-key test day for the French manufacturer’s pair of 9X8s.

On the revised 2024-spec 9X8’s debut at the Circuit de la Sarthe, Paul di Resta set Peugeot’s fastest time in the No. 94 car on Sunday, a 3:29.326, to go 13th-fastest, a little over two seconds off the pace set by Porsche Penske Motorsport’s Kevin Estre.

The sister No. 93 entry, meanwhile, was 21st of the 23-strong Hypercar field with Nico Mueller producing the best lap of 3:29.888.

Vergne, who shares the No. 93 car with Mueller and Mikkel Jensen, dismissed the significance of the 9X8’s apparent lack of one-lap pace, but suggested Peugeot is still not on the level of the established FIA World Endurance Championship frontrunners.

“The lap times today are not really representative,” said Vergne. “Some teams are pushing, some are hiding, so I wouldn’t read too much into the lap times.

“I care more about feeling in the car. I had quite a poor feeling in the Porsche Curves and last sector this morning, but the feeling improved a lot in the afternoon as the grip picked up. My confidence is going up as well.

“We have quite a few things to improve but they should be easy things to do. There’s no particular area where we are bad, which is positive.”

Asked by Sportscar365 if he was confident of Peugeot being in the fight for victory, Vergne replied: “No I’m not. For that I would need to see the low-fuel lap times and drivers pushing to the maximum and us doing the same to have a clear indication.

“The most important point for us is to be reliable. Maybe we are not going to be the fastest, but Le Mans has proven many times that the fastest car is not always the one that wins here.

“We’ve seen teams with a slower car winning with perfect race execution, good reliability and some luck.

“It’s clear that we are the underdogs, so we can only perform well. Already today was a good feeling, and I hope that we’re not gonna be that far.”

Vergne wouldn’t be drawn on which of Peugeot’s competitors he believes is going into race week as the favorite.

“For sure Porsche is fast, Ferrari is fast, Toyota is fast,” said the French driver. “To give a ranking between those three teams doesn’t really matter.

“The only thing we have to do is focus on our own performance. We don’t have the luxury of sandbagging too much like some teams do.”

Stellantis Motorsport boss Jean-Marc Finot expressed his satisfaction at a trouble-free day of running for both Peugeots, but was likewise reluctant to make any firm statements regarding the performance of the 9X8 on Sunday.

“It’s too early to say because we don’t know the run plan of our competitors,” said Finot. “It’s difficult to compare.”

Finot was vocal in his displeasure with Peugeot’s treatment under the Balance of Performance rules since the introduction of the revised 9X8 during last month’s third round of the WEC at Spa.

Peugeot appeared to be one of the biggest winners in the BoP issued for Le Mans, as the 9X8 was handed the biggest weight break in the Hypercar class of 18 kg compared to the Spa round, while seeing no change to its maximum power output.

While the 9X8 has also been given a 0.7 percent decrease above 250 km/h under the new Power Gain rules, Finot dismissed the significance of this.

“If you change the power at high speed by one percent, it will change the top speed by one third of a percent,” said Finot. “So it won’t change a lot.

“For example, even a 5kW [change] should be worth 1 km/h, 1.5, no more.”

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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