"Images of Nissan's front wheel drive Le Mans prototype have been bouncing round the web since it aired at the Superbowl commercial break. And everyone knows how expensive that piece of advertising real estate is. Testament, that, to the importance "
NISMO – The Racers
Nissan GT-R LM Nismo: Nismo’s brave attempt to break Le Mans
Traditionally, most racing cars in modern motor racing follow a similar format. They are mid-engine and rear wheel drive. Very few categories asides from touring cars follow a front engine, front wheel drive formation.
In 2015 however Nismo, Nissan’s in house tuning company, decided to take this formation and explore whether it could be upgraded. They decided to build a Le Mans Prototype around it, one that could work and hopefully win the famous Le Mans 24 Hours. With this objective put in place they set to work on the experimental GT-R LM Nismo.
The Nismo was powered by the same twin turbo charged V6 found in Nissan’s GT-R GT3 car and was assisted by a complex regenerative hybrid system. The electrical energy recovered under braking was fed to the rear wheels under acceleration creating a four wheel drive system.
The hope was that on the famous Mulsanne Straight that the GT-R LM Nismo would have the speed and acceleration to compete with Toyota, Audi and Porsche. These were the other three manufacturers fighting for overall victory at Le Mans but all were teams running more conventional mid-engined set ups.
However, Le Mans requires more than just straight line speed, it requires supreme lateral cornering grip to maintain speed through key areas such as the Dunlop Curves, Arnage and Porsche Curves. To compensate for the lack of downforce resulting from a front engine format and to maintain the momentum through such key sections of the circuit the team had to re-think their wheels and tyres.
Existing as a predominantly front wheel drive machine the Nismo would be prone to understeer as it tried to push wide through the high speed corners. To try and counter this, extra wide tyres were fitted to the front whilst skinny tyres were fitted to the rear. This was supposed to both reduce drag on the straights yet keep cornering speeds potent.
In reality though when the Nissan GT-R LM Nismo finally made its delayed debut at Le Mans (the original intention having been to run it at the World Endurance Championships’ first round at Silverstone), it was fraught with issues.
Firstly the clever hybrid system that was designed to send electrical power to the rear wheels under acceleration was incredibly unreliable and kept the team in the pits during the Le Mans Test Day. The short-term solution for the race was to send that electrical power to the front wheels thus creating a 1250bhp front wheel drive prototype.
This sounds alright and it meant Nissan could compete but not complete the Le Mans 24 Hours. The exaggerated handling problems resulted not only in severe understeer but also laptimes slower than LMP2 cars in the class below. Furthermore, the extra power put greater strain on the rest of the engine which was a key factor in their triple retirement.
Despite the negative results and eventual cancellation of the entire programme it was, I believe, a programme that could have worked had Nissan given Nismo another year to develop and hone what was a classic Nismo concept.
One that was both bonkers yet brilliant.
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