Peugeot has begun the process of working out who should drive its new Le Mans Hypercar when it joins the FIA World Endurance Championship in 2022. But which drivers are likely to feature on the shortlist?
According to Peugeot Sport technical director Olivier Jansonnie, the French firm has already stated to pour through data from the last five years in the WEC and the European Le Mans Series to help inform its decision, before “more selective criteria” are applied later, such as technical feedback and the ability to work in a team.
That strongly suggests that those with years of experience racing in prototypes are likely to be favoured, but other factors such as age, nationality, contractual availability and even salary demands are all likely to play a role in determining who gets the nod.
With all that in mind, we’ve hand-picked 10 drivers from across the sportscar racing world we feel are likely to be in the conversation for a Peugeot seat in 2022.
Jean-Eric Vergne, G-Drive Racing
Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images
Jean-Eric Vergne has to be among the firm favourites to be snapped up by Peugeot. Yes, he’s French, but more importantly he has been one of the leading LMP2 drivers in the Le Mans 24 Hours for a number of years with G-Drive Racing and he is already part of the PSA family, representing the DS brand in Formula E with Techeetah.
Vergne brings plenty of Le Mans experience, a Formula 1 pedigree and tons of pace and maturity, all at the age of just 30, presenting an attractive long-term prospect for Peugeot.
Then there is Vergne’s current FE teammate Antonio Felix da Costa, who has also been building experience in the LMP2 ranks with the JOTA Sport team. The only sticking point to a potential deal would be if he goes down the IndyCar route in 2022 following his test for Rahal Letterman Racing this week at Barber, although even that may not prevent him from at least taking part in a limited programme for Peugeot revolving around Le Mans.
It would be logical for Peugeot to try and lure across at least one current Toyota driver to give itself the best possible chance of besting the Japanese manufacturer, and the obvious choice here is Jose Maria Lopez. The Argentine driver represented PSA for many years in the World Touring Car Championship, taking three titles for the Citroen brand, and despite a shaky start his subsequent transition to LMP1 competition with Toyota has been a success.
At 37, Lopez is not one of the younger drivers on this list, but his experience would be invaluable, and given Toyota looks like it could be on for something of a reshuffle of its drivers in 2022, it might make sense for ‘Pechito’ to secure his future by jumping ship pre-emptively.
Olivier Quesnel, Pedro Lamy, Simon Pagenaud and Sebastien Bourdais
Photo by: Eric Gilbert
Of course, if it’s experience that Peugeot prizes above all, then there’s little to stop it from getting some of its former stars of the 908 era involved – in which case, Simon Pagenaud would be a very good place to start.
Pagenaud, 36, formed part of the Peugeot line-up in 2009 and went on to win the LMP2 class in the American Le Mans Series before becoming one of IndyCar’s leading drivers, claiming an IndyCar title and Indy 500 win for Roger Penske. The vastly experienced and technically strong Pagenaud could be among the first names on the French manufacturer’s shortlist, especially amid ongoing uncertainty as to whether he has a long-term place on the Penske IndyCar roster, at least for a full season, in the wake of Scott McLaughlin joining the team.
Further down the IndyCar grid, returning Foyt driver Sebastien Bourdais is another former 908 star with unfinished business at Le Mans. The 41-year-old Le Mans native is still keen to win his home race after the heart-breaking near miss of 2011 and – like Pagenaud – brings bags of experience and technical know-how. Bourdais is the oldest driver on this list, but is still at the top of his game and could play a valuable role in the development of the new car.
Loic Duval was never part of the factory Peugeot 908 effort, but he did race at Le Mans in Oreca’s customer example twice in 2010 and ’11, also picking up a memorable win in the Sebring 12 Hours for the team. He joined the Audi effort off the back of that, and he’s known to be evaluating his options for the next part of his career following the German marque’s decision to end its factory involvement in the DTM.
Although no longer a spring chicken either, Duval has shown on his cameos in the IMSA WeatherTech Endurance Championship in the last couple of years that he still has the pace when it comes to racing prototypes, and he also showed strongly in a one-off outing for Rebellion at Silverstone last year. There’s certainly life in the 38-year-old yet.
Photo by: Michael L. Levitt / Motorsport Images
Looking at other drivers with Audi experience, there’s one who’s certainly having an incredible run of form lately, which is Filipe Albuquerque. After losing his full-time IMSA gig with Action Express Racing, the Portuguese driver, has been on a sensational run of form in the WEC and the ELMS, winning the title in both categories with a round to spare alongside Phil Hanson, and he’s been rapid on his IMSA long-distance race cameos as well.
Although the 35-year-old looks on the brink of securing a IMSA reprieve next year with Wayne Taylor Racing, his run of form in Europe will be hard for Peugeot to overlook, and Albuquerque could find it hard to say no if approached.
Speaking of Action Express drivers, another name worth considering is Pipo Derani, who has assembled an impressive sportscar racing CV, especially for someone who only recently turned 27. Three Sebring 12 Hours wins (and a bonus extra triumph in this year’s sprint race at the track), and victories in the Rolex 24 at Daytona and Petit Le Mans have made the Brazilian hot property. And while he’s perhaps not quite yet a household name, he’s likely to be among the cheaper options on this list and he’s also got factory experience in the GTE ranks.
Sticking on the younger side of things, French youngster Thomas Laurent can’t be ruled out. He made a huge impression at Le Mans as a teenager, playing an integral part in the 2017 LMP2 win and overall Le Mans podium for Jackie Chan DC Racing, which he backed up the next year with third overall for Rebellion. Laurent was snapped up by Toyota as its test and reserve driver, but then moved to Signatech Alpine when the LMP1 manufacturer released him in favour of F2 champion Nyck de Vries.
The now 22-year-old Laurent could be an interesting future prospect for Peugeot, although Alpine might be keen on tying the Le Mans class winner down for its grandfathered LMP1 campaign in 2021 ahead of a potential hypercar programme of its own.
Photo by: Michael L. Levitt / Motorsport Images
Since Peugeot already stated that there was no requirement for its driver line-up to be predominantly French, it’s worth looking at other drivers with recent prototype experience. You could make a case for several experienced drivers, such as Bruno Senna or Renger van der Zande, emerging stars like Job van Uitert or Mikkel Jensen, but in the end we are settling on Senna’s Rebellion LMP1 colleague Gustavo Menezes for our final spot on the list.
The 26-year-old American won Le Mans in LMP2 in 2016 for Signatech Alpine and has been absolutely rapid in Rebellion’s R-13 LMP1, the best example of that coming with his Toyota-splitting qualifying lap at La Sarthe this year. Just like Laurent, Menezes has strong Alpine links and thus the Renault brand may try and tie him down. But as it stands today, there’s only one French manufacturer that has committed to a factory Hypercar programme…
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