Unconventional Warfare – Nissan's Insane Le Mans Car
I've been a big fan of prototype sports car racing since I was a kid. The sleek racecars of the Group C era just blew my mind back then and up until the late 90s Nissan was one of the major forces in sports car racing - having won at Daytona and Sebring and showing strongly at Le Mans. By the early years of the 21st century though Nissan had pulled the plug on a large portion of its racing programs because of financial troubles so for over a decade they were gone from the endurance racing scene.
|The best it could do was third place but the Nissan R391 was a gorgeous race car.|
Le Mans has always seemed to have a strong attraction for Nissan however so I was happy to see that they started to take some steps back to racing there again a few years ago. Nissan started supplying engines in the LMP2 category – eventually becoming the dominant powerplant in that class – and they showed some wacky stuff like the DeltaWing and the ZEOD RC that were experimental and not really competing in the race. It was all a far cry though from when Nissan was at the sharp end of the grid and fighting for overall honors.
Late last year though Nissan announced they were going back to the top-tier LMP1 class. With the prototypes enjoying renewed interest because of competition from big names like Audi, Toyota, and Porsche I was giddier than a dog in a Bacon Bits factory when I heard the news. Nothing prepared me though for when Nissan unveiled their actual racecar – the Nismo GT-R LM.
Rumors had been going around for months that Nissan was getting an unconventional car ready for Le Mans but it's no exaggeration to say that the end result shocked the motorsport community. Nissan could have rolled out a pink GT-R on spinners with sponsorship from My Little Pony and it would have raised fewer eyebrows.
What we got was a front-engined, primarily front-wheel drive crazy-mobile with a shape that looked like someone had been watching too many reruns of Tim Burton's Batman. In case you don't follow motor racing, for decades convention has said that a successful prototype car should be mid-engine and mainly rear-wheel drive. It's the formula that all the highest-performance racecars and road-going hypercars use and it's a setup that works. Nissan has to be on crack to go against that right?
|It's not as pretty as its predecessor but it's no less cool! Best of luck to Nissan in June!|
If you inspect the car closely though you'll start to think Nissan was affected less by insanity than by pure genius. I won't bore you with a long explanation by an amateur like me but basically Nissan looked at the restrictions imposed by the current rules and created a car optimised for the unique nature of the Le Mans circuit using thinking that was so far outside the box they needed their own zip code.
I just read an article in Racecar Engineering magazine that examines the car in detail but below I've linked a less technical and probably more entertaining way to get to know the Nismo GT-R LM and the kooky thinking behind it – a series of videos from Nissan called Nismo University. With tough competition from the other manufacturers I mentioned, an unproven and unconventional race car, and not as much development time as they really needed, Nissan's unlikely to do well this first year at Le Mans. I just love this car though for the sheer ballsiness of it compared to the cookie-cutter approach the competition has taken and from the huge amount of interest this car seems to have generated from professionals and race fans alike, I'm not alone. If fan interest decided race wins this car would lock out the Le Mans podium. June 13 can't come soon enough!