BAHRAIN -- PSA Group's Peugeot brand has been asked to join the World Endurance Championship (WEC) to fill the hole left by Audi's departure from the race series, whose showcase event is the annual 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Currently, only two vehicle manufacturers have committed to participating in the WEC next season: two-time defending title holder Porsche and Toyota.
“There is a lot of lobbying going on to convince Peugeot to return to Le Mans racing, and the word is it is thinking about investing 80 to 90 million euros,” said one source at a WEC factory team. “But if that's the case, I don't think it would be enough. You need closer to 150 million euros -- half of which is for the personnel alone-- to really be competitive.”
Peugeot had participated for years in Le Mans, but with PSA facing serious financial troubles the automaker pulled out of endurance racing in 2012 just before the WEC was to celebrate the start of its maiden season. PSA Group CEO Carlos Tavares, who has turned around the automaker since taking over the top job in 2014, is known to be a major proponent of racing as a competitive differentiator.
“Persistent participation in motorsports is also a tool to create brand value on a long-term basis,” Tavares told Automotive News Europe last year. While his Peugeot, Citroen and DS Automobiles brands are under no pressure to join a series just because “their CEO is a motorsports addict,” he does like to point out that it is impossible to be regarded as a great automotive brand without having had success on the racetrack at some point in the company's history.
"Our personal preference is to attract a new manufacturer," Porsche Team Principal Andreas Seidl told journalists before the start of the 6 Hours of Bahrain, the final race of the WEC season held Nov. 19. “For sure it's not ideal that we lose cars now on the grid, especially a manufacturer such as Audi with all the heritage and history. But we also saw with Peugeot and Audi in the past that even that battle was quite intense and quite attractive.”
A PSA spokesman said that for now the Rallye Dakar remained the focus of its factory motorsports efforts, but did acknowledge a return to endurance racing might be possible were three conditions met.
First was a recovery in the brand’s financials, while the second was keeping a lid on costs to develop Le Mans Prototype cars. The third would be a sufficient period of time to prepare a return given Porsche and Toyota enjoyed a head start. “For sure Peugeot has a great passion for the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the endurance series,” she said.