Nissan gave a first public airing to its radical front-engined, front-wheel-drive GT-R LM Nismo sports racing car during last night’s Super Bowl.
The current P1-class regulations for the Le Mans prototype racers were rewritten for the start of 2014, putting a greater emphasis on hybrid powertrains but, crucially, giving a lot more freedom in terms of layout.
Designer Ben Bowlby – who was behind the triangular DeltaWing and Nissan ZEOD RC, both of which raced at Le Mans – devised a typically unconventional solution, placing the 3.0-litre, twin-turbo V6 engine at the front of the car, powering the front wheels.
The energy recovery system harvests up to eight megajoules of energy from the front axle, which can be deployed to the front or rear wheels, depending on which end can best cope with it. Against the opposition from Audi, Porsche and Toyota, the Nissan’s engine is relatively low-powered, but the total output from the hybrid system is a whopping 1,250bhp. That’s 250 more than reigning champions Toyota have to play with.
To get all that power down effectively, the front tyres are 14 inches wide – the rears are only 9-inchers. The drivetrain is extremely heavy as well, accounting for around half of the car’s 880kg weight. The front-biased weight distribution created aero problems, so the centre of pressure had to be moved as far forwards as possible. Basically, designing the GT-R LM Nismo and making it work properly has been difficult at every turn.
To give you an idea of how far out in left field the Nissan GT-R LM Nismo is, a front-engined car last won Le Mans in 1962. And every car that’s won the great race was either rear- or four-wheel-drive.
Testing continues this week at Circuit of the Americas in Texas, ahead of the GT-R LM’s racing debut in the FIA World Endurance Championship season opener at Silverstone on 12 April. Experienced F1 and sports car racer Marc Gene is the first confirmed driver; the remainder will be announced nearer the start of the season, though expect several – if not all – of them to have come through the GT Academy scheme that turns gamers into professional racers.