TODT’S V10 TEARJERKER
Created in the dying days of the Group C era to compete under the FIA’s then-new 3.5-litre regulations, the 905 started life neither beautiful nor fit to challenge at Le Mans. But by 1992 it was both, the elegant V10-engined machine winning at Silverstone, Le Mans and Suzuka on its way to glory in the 40th and final running of the FIA World Sportscar Championship. The car recorded a second win at Le Mans the following year, and with that the architect of its success – Peugeot Talbot Sport lynchpin Jean Todt (you may have heard of him) – headed to Maranello to build a new empire in scarlet.
Remarkably, the 905 was created by a team with no prior circuit racing experience. While Peugeot Talbot Sport’s Group B 205 T16 had won rallies, bagged drivers’ and manufacturers’ titles and conquered the Dakar (twice), it and the later 405 (of Pikes Peak legend) taught their maker next to nothing about the fine art of sportscar racing. Work on the 905 began in 1988 and Todt, acknowledging the paucity of relevant experience in his 120-strong Vélizy-based equipe, hired himself something of an A-Team. Under technical director André de Cortanze (formerly of Alpine and Renault), Robert Choulet (whose CV included the long-tail Porsche 917) sculpted the 905’s body and monocoque while French plane manufacturer Dassault was approached to craft these structures in light, stiff and impact-shrugging carbonfibre. Engine Jedi Jean-Pierre Boudy, who’d worked on Renault’s successful V6 turbo F1 programme, was tasked with creating the V10: an all-aluminium, 40-valve masterpiece initially rated at a very conservative 600bhp at 12,000rpm… It’d ultimately make nearer 650bhp.
The 905 debuted in 1991. It won races but Le Mans was a disaster, the team battling fuel fires, electrical issues and gearbox failures. The car lacked long-distance development, and both 905s were parked up by dusk.
Cue the montage. The 905’s carbon hull was retained but the bodywork much modified for ’92, with a lower, stubbier nose shrouding tightly packaged suspension. Ducts on either side of the bubble cockpit fed radiators in sidepods outboard of vast venturis. The engine cover was lowered, for a cleaner airflow onto the enormous biplane rear wing, and the engine made both tougher and more powerful. The gearbox, too, was upgraded (new pinions and revised lubrication) in the light of Peugeot’s simulations, which figured a 24-hour race would require no fewer than 18,000 shifts…
Todt, already convinced that a great car is nothing without a great driver, also went in search of top-tier helmsmen.
‘At the end of ’85 I’d signed for Lotus, to be Senna’s team-mate,’ explains Derek Warwick, who was right at the top of Todt’s hit list. ‘But Ayrton made them tear up the contract, so come December ’85 I was without a drive. I raced a [Porsche] 962 at Daytona [to third place] and I loved it. F1 is another level, don’t get me wrong, but I loved sportscar racing. From there I raced for Jaguar in ’86, in the XJR-6, and again in ’91, in the XJR-14, which was a purebred racing car – an F1 car with bodywork; simple as that.’
Todt called in late ’91. ‘He wanted me to be the lead driver in one of his cars for ’92: Philippe Alliot, Mauro Baldi and Jean-Pierre Jabouille in one; me, Mark Blundell and Yannick Dalmas in the other,’ recalls Warwick. ‘We met in Paris, talked money and I left in a huff, playing the old poker game. But we stayed in touch, Jaguar wasn’t sure of its plans for ’92, Ross Brawn left [for Benetton in F1] and Jean got serious. I signed and we started testing – full 24-hour tests at Paul Ricard [with chicanes on the Mistral straight to simulate those on the Mulsanne]. After two or three 24-hour tests I got to like the car a lot. The engine was good and the car was so, so beautiful. I did a lot of the testing, especially from midnight to dawn. I don’t remember seeing much of the other drivers after midnight; they liked their beds.’
Like Warwick, mechanic Laurent Guyot joined the team in January 1992. ‘Straight away you got the feeling that you were working for a big company, and that this company wanted to win; it wanted to win today, tomorrow and the day after that,’ says Guyot. ‘I remember my job interview with Jean Todt like it was yesterday. He is an amazing guy. There was a unique atmosphere inside the team – we knew we were there to win.’
Come June ’92 the 905 was at last beautiful and ready to challenge at Le Mans. Metronomically reliable, it was also 14 seconds a lap faster than the ’91 905 and four seconds a lap faster than the ’92 Toyota…
‘In ’92 we did a better job [than the sister car] setting up for the race,’ says Warwick. ‘That helped us save fuel. We were a little slower but we were friends with the car; kinder to it. And every time we swapped drivers we’d yell “Gearbox!” at each other, just to remind the new guy to look after it.’
After an early dogfight between Peugeot, Mazda and Toyota, the
‘UNDER TODT YOU GOT THE FEELING PEUGEOT WANTED TO WIN TODAY, TOMORROW AND THE DAY AFTER THAT’
MECHANIC LAURENT GUYOT
number 1 905 set about building a lead. Through the dead of night, as rain lashed the La Sarthe circuit, the Peugeot stayed ahead.
‘It was hard work,’ says Warwick. ‘In the middle of the night someone tugged my arm and told me we were running way off the pace. I turfed Mark out, got back in and did a triple stint. I was good in the wet, and the engine was great – it made good power but it wasn’t peaky.’
Sunday morning and, bar a troublesome ignition module (the control unit and battery were swapped in a 12-minute stop), Warwick’s 905 was still out front. It went on to win, six laps ahead of the Toyota in second.
‘With half an hour to go Yannick was in the car, which was the ideal situation – a French driver winning a French race in a French car,’ says Warwick. ‘But Jean pulled the car in and gave me that last half an hour. I’d lost my little brother the previous year and it had a massive effect on me. [Paul Warwick lost his life leading an F3000 race at Oulton Park in 1991.] Emotionally I was pretty drained. Jean picked up on this. He would ask me about Paul and he knew how important it was for me to do something spectacular – something to remember Paul by. He brought the car in and let me finish the race. Jean knew how much work I’d put in. I’d driven the car more than anybody in testing and this was my reward. As the clock ticked down I was so emotional; so, so happy. I remember coming on the radio down the Mulsanne and yelling, “Problem! Problem! The car’s stopping!” It wasn’t, but I was belly-laughing at the thought of the team running around going, “F*ck! F*ck! F*ck!” Afterwards I thought, “Derek, don’t tempt fate for f*ck’s sake.” Of all the cars I raced the 905 stands out – everything about it was just gorgeous.’
‘I remember the race as a series of snapshots,’ says mechanic Guyot. ‘One of them was the first pitstop – us waiting and the car coming down the pitlane. I can see that moment now so clearly, me waiting with my wheel gun to change the front-left wheel. We weren’t nervous. We knew that what we were doing was important but we were ready and we were focused. It was magical when we won. For me, the 905 is more than just a racing car. It’s special. Even today – not everyday but sometimes – I only have to hear the noise of the 905 and, yeah, I get pretty emotional.’
‘JEAN PUT ME IN THE CAR WITH HALF AN HOUR TO GO. HE KNEW HOW IMPORTANT IT WAS FOR ME TO DO SOMETHING SPECTACULAR’