LUCA CIFERRI

Why Peugeot quitting Le Mans is sad, but might not be so bad

Luca Ciferri is Automotive News Europe's chief correspondentLuca Ciferri is Automotive News Europe's chief correspondent
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PSA/Peugeot-Citroen's decision to withdraw its Peugeot brand from the Le Mans endurance racing series is sad, but could eventually make the world's most famous 24-hour car race more enjoyable.

Peugeot said it pulled out from the 2012 season because of a "difficult economic environment in Europe." It was a financially savvy move for a carmaker that had its share of European new-car sales drop to 6.7 percent from 7.3 percent in the last year. The decision also pretty much guarantees that Audi brand will win Le Mans again this year.

Peugeot has been the only true rival to Audi in the last six races, five of which Audi has won. Peugeot's most recent Le Man victory was in 2009.

With Peugeot out, I would expect to see Audi competing in 2012 purely against itself – each top team enters three cars in Le Mans – and that is bad for the sport and boring for spectators.

Therefore, I wonder if, after the 2012 season is over, it might make sense to abandon the hulking purpose-built LMP1 (Le Mans prototype class 1) racing cars and return to the set-up established in 1923, when the race was born, with tuned versions of production-derived cars competing against one another.

Even today, you can find production-based Aston Martin, BMW, Chevrolet, Ferrari, Lotus and Porsche sports cars battling it out at Le Mans, but they are confined to the less glamorous LM GTE class.

Many LMP1 drivers complain that production-based cars are too slow and therefore create a dangerous obstacle for their faster models to pass again and again during the 24-hour race.

Despite that complaint, I don't think going back to production-based racecars would hurt the Le Mans spectacle. Instead, it would offer participating automakers a better return on their investment because spectators would see cars on the track that have a lot in common with those they could buy from their local dealers.

You can reach Luca Ciferri at lciferri@crain.com.

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