Nissan is out to prove something at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The Japanese automaker hasn’t competed in the race’s top class since 1999, although the Nissan GT-R has made repeated appearances at the world-famous competition. But this year will be quite different as Nissan will be challenging the field with the GT-R LM NISMO, a radical race car unlike any ever created.
As the company gets ready to take on the 24 Hours of Le Mans, AutoGuide.com has compiled a list of six things you need to know about the new GT-R NISMO race car, some of which might be hard to believe are finding their way into a Le Mans competitor.
1. Front-engine, front-wheel drive
Starting off, the biggest surprise of the Nissan GT-R LM NISMO is the fact that it’s front-engined and front-wheel drive, a layout that very few, if any, race cars choose to have when it’s not required. As Nissan puts it, the GT-R LM NISMO “literally turns the rulebook on its head, finding creative freedom in the same technical regulations that have evolved to restrict the performance of the conventional LM P1 contenders.”
With the company committing to a front-wheel drive race car, it decided to load up the downforce at the front of the vehicle. The automaker said that not having to deal with rear-wheel drive not only gave it greater freedom within the rules, but front downforce is generated more efficiently, with less drag. That low drag helps give the GT-R LM NISMO an advantage with a high top speed on the long straights found at Le Mans, as well as better fuel efficiency which is extremely important in a 24-hour endurance race.
The result of the configuration means that 18-inch wheels are in the front with 14-inch wide Michelin tires while the rear of the race car has 16-inch wheels with only 9-inch wide tires.
2. Engine and transmission
Powering the GT-R LM NISMO is a familiar 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 engine combined with a five-speed gearbox. The powertrain features a torquey and flat power curve, allowing Nissan to run the five-speed transmission that allows less shifting and less wear-and-tear on the gearbox components during the long race.
The combination of the powertrain and its front-wheel drive setup means the wheels always “pull” the car and according to Michael Krumm, NISMO’s most experienced driver, “as long as you are under acceleration, the rear end of the car will always be stable and cannot suddenly spin you around.” In terms of the powerplant itself, Krumm said that “it’s a really nice turbo engine that has terrific torque right through the rev range.”
3. Features a flywheel-based energy recovery system
Mated to the turbocharged V6 engine is a mechanical flywheel kinetic Energy Recovery System (ERS), similar to what Audi has. But Nissan’s system doesn’t have an electrical linkage since it’s a mechanical system with Nissan’s LM P1 Technical Director, Ben Bowlby, saying “It’s different and it’s smart and it has huge power potential. In tests on the dyno we’ve comfortably produced 1100bhp from our 8MJ KERS system alone. Combined with the internal combustion engine, we have the potential for a little over 1600bhp at our disposal.”
4. Right-hand drive
To make it easier on the driver to exit on pit stops, Nissan decided to make the GT-R LM NISMO right-hand drive with its driving position located very far back behind the engine. Like the rest of the car, the seating position is a bit unorthodox with driver Michael Krumm admitting “it feels unusual the first time you sit in there.”
5. Nissan had less than a year to develop the car
As much as there is to learn about the Nissan GT-R LM NISMO race car, the biggest surprise is the fact that the Japanese automaker had less than a year to form the team and design, engineer and develop the car from scratch.
Bowlby admits that the company had to be practical, scaling things back with the hybrid system for this year’s Le Mans race. “That’s the flipside of innovation: it hurts when all the pieces don’t quite come together in time,” he said. “However, we are going to learn a huge amount about getting the maximum from the V6 petrol engine in this year’s race, and you can be sure we’ll be back at Le Mans with full force in 2016.”
Nissan admits that its main opposition is “15 years and several billion dollars ahead in experience and development,” so the company turned to ideas and innovation to try to catch up. Although it doesn’t have as big of a budget as its competitors, the team remains optimistic that innovating will give it a better chance at being competitive.
6. History at Le Mans
Nissan has a storied history competing at Le Mans, but in recent years, it’s most well known for developing the powertrain used in various race cars.
Most recently, last year Nissan competed with the ZEOD RC in the Garage 56 category, which is reserved for new technology. The Nissan ZEOD RC became the first car to record an all-electric lap of Le Mans, topping 186 mph on electric power alone.
As for victories, Nissan has seen its 4.5-liter V8 VK45DE power vehicles to victory in 2011, 2013 and 2014, but it’s last real competitor was in 1999 with the R391. Two cars were entered in that year’s race, but both were forced to retire. The Nissan R391 did, however, go on to score a victory in the Fuji 1000km race in November.
In 2011, Nissan was the engine partner for the Greaves Motorsport LMP2 Zytek Z11SN, which was the class winner powered by the VK45DE engine. Two years later, the VK45DE helped power the OAK Racing Morgan LMP2 race car to a victory in the class while in 2014, Nissan’s engine helped give Jota Sport’s Zytek Z11SN an LMP2 class win.
The last time Nissan was on the podium in the 24 Hours of Le Mans? That dates back to 1998 with the number-32 R390 GT1 finishing third.
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