Nissan will make their return to prototype racing at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans on June 13/14, with their brand-new Nissan GT-R LM NISMO, featuring a radical design and all-star driver line-up.
The most prominent feature of the GT-R LM NISMO is its front-engine, front-wheel drive layout. Normally, the accepted prototype design is the exact opposite, but Nissan believe that the ‘creative freedom’ that comes from such a design will help them to win Le Mans.
The V6 twin-turbo petrol engine is combined with a hybrid system which joins it to a mechanical flywheel Energy Recovery System. The result is a very high top speed, but also a very efficient race car.
“The car is the star at Le Mans, no question,” claims Nissan LMP1 Technical Director, Ben Bowlby. “It’s so important because perhaps more than any other, it’s a real engineering race. As a first year entrant we had to ask ourselves how can we stand a chance of being competitive when the main opposition is fifteen years and several billion dollars ahead in experience and development? The answer – our answer – was to innovate. We don’t have as big a budget as the other guys, but we are rich in ideas. There’s virtually no chance to beat our rivals at their own game, so innovating gives us a better chance at competitiveness.
“If I had to pick out three things [as the GT-R LM NISMO’s key strengths] I would say efficiency, stability and straight-line speed. But you have to remember these are the product of the aerodynamics, which in turn were only possible to achieve because of the forward positioning of the transmission and engine and our commitment to run front-wheel drive.”
Nissan decided to create a car with a lot of front downforce, made possible because of the relatively vague technical regulations for this part of the car. Competitors have usually opted for a car with strong downforce at the back, and so this is yet another thing that the Japanese manufacturer has done differently.
“Not only does this give us greater freedom within the rules, but front downforce is generated more efficiently, with less drag. Moreover, with the front end doing most of the work we could trim-out the rear wing and save even more drag, which is invaluable at Le Mans.
“Achieving a forward aero balance is quite a trick in itself, but to make it work you need an equally radical shift in mass and tyre distribution. It was at this point we took our ideas a stage further and thought, “What if we put the engine ahead of the driver?”
Nissan will enter three GT-R LM NISMOs at this year’s Le Mans challenge, and then two for the remainder of the season. Their drivers include GT Academy winner Jann Mardenborough and ex-F1 driver Max Chilton. Others have previous Le Mans experience in LMP2, such as Harry Tincknell, Mark Shulzhitskiy and Lucas Ordóñez.
The GT-R LM NISMO’s first race will be the 24 Hours of Le Mans on June 13/14.