7 Craziest Prototype cars ever seen at Le Mans
The specific nature of endurance racing, and the somewhat more relaxed regulations of what's most commonly known as Le Mans or WEC, allows constructors' imaginations to run wild and explore some really outside the box ideas. From delta shaped Nissans to crazy Minis on the Circuit De La Sarthe, here are the best of the bunch (in our opinion, at least!).
Nissan ZEOD RC 'Delta Wing'
I think it's pretty easy to see what's so crazy about this car: the designers seemed to have mistaken their project for a jet-fighter rather than a car. On a more serious note, the design was chosen to reduce drag and make the most efficient racer or, as it's called, the 'Zero Emission On Demand Racing Car'.
The hybrid electric racer used two electric engines producing 220kw (295hp) and 1.5-litre Turbocharged Nissan engine delivering further 400hp. The internal combustion unit weighed just 40kgs.
The car was semi-successful. It's the first car to do a lap of Circuit De La Sarthe and reach 300kph under electric power only, but it never achieved much success in terms of race wins and due to changed regulations the project has been shelved since 2017.
Ferrari 250 GT Breadvan
Most people associate breadvans with... well breadvans and a few Volkswagens but certainly not Ferrari, especially not the hyper-famous 250GTO, yet here it is. While this is not exactly a prototype I include it here anyway as Le Mans classes worked differently back then and it's too cool not to.
To allow the somewhat bizarre (pun ahead) Giotto Bizzarrini (get it?!) and Piero Drogo for Scuderia Serenissima to compete with the updated Ferrari 250 GT0s, the pair installed GTO's more powerful engine and developed new back-end to be more aerodynamic.
While its looks might be controversial the overall car was an improvement over the legendary GTO, passing all of the GTOs at Le Mans, however, a broken driveshaft forced the team to retire in the first four hours of the race. Italian press called it the 'little truck' while the English speaking press nicknamed it the 'Breadvan'.
Cadillac 'Le Monstre' 195
This car is the result of American genius Briggs Cunningham who took a two Cadillac Series 61 coupes, one stock and one... well, not so stock. The latter ended up being nicknamed 'La Monstre' by the French fans. Underneath it was near stock Cadillac chassis and a 5.4 V8 engine. The body, however, was completely changed.
The Le Monstre was built with the help of Grumman aircraft engineers and streamlined using data gained from testing a scale model in a wind tunnel that was used for slow flying aircraft.
AUDI R10 TDI
So this doesn't quite look that crazy, not for an LMP1 car anyway. But what makes this so special is the engine – or rather the fuel that powers it... it's a DIESEL! Yup this Le Mans prototype is powered by the same as your dad's Skoda, or Audi Q7 if he is mint, in that case it will also share bits of the same engine...
But it wasn't just an experiment: the R10 won 36 out of 48 races entered including three Le Mans wins from 2006 to 2008. Diesel was used thanks to it's better fuel economy which combined with regulations at the time made for a good shot at a win. Not to mention the PR value of having a TDI plastered car win at Le Mans.
In 2010 Audi won Le Mans again – this time with the R15 powered by the 5.5 litre Diesel V10, and much as I hate diesels I have to admit these are cool.
Peugeot 908 HDi FAP
Debuting the car in 2007 and winning at Le Mans in 2009, Peugeot broke Audi's winning streak with a diesel monster of its own, the 908 was powered by a 5.5 litre twin-turbo V12 pumping out 730 horsepower and 1200nm of torque.
The car isn't hugely special but I think it's important to remember that Peugeot isn't just a maker of small, cute hatchbacks but also a serious player in the motorsport world.
Yup that is a Mini underneath. Marcos Mini is a hella cool car in its own right – a sleek two door coupe with fibreglass body weighed in at just 476kgs and utilising Mini's running gear it was a hoot, at least for the 1960s.
Enter a few Frenchies who loved the Mini Marcos who entered the car with a tuned BMC rally engine close speed box and LSD to Le Mans. The car was the only British car to finish Le Mans in 1966, finishing 15th overall.
Nissan GT-R LM Nismo
Roughly since the 60s almost all serious racing cars were of the mid-engine RWD variety. In 2014 Nissan Chief Designer Ben Bowlby was told to 'not copy Audi' for their next Le Mans car and decided to flip book on its head.
He decided to move the engine to the front – okay that's pretty radical but plenty of sports cars still get away with it. What's even more radical is that 3.0 twin-turbo V6 that powers it sends all of its power to the front wheels. :O
According to Bowlby due to the regulations, LMP1 cars rear-ends are limited in size which results in poor overall aerodynamic efficiency. He says:
"So we thought: why not turn the rules on their head and make a car with lots of downforce at the front? 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."
It started in Le Mans just once in 2015, but of three cars entered, two were DNFs due to mechanical faults and one failed to complete the minimum amount of laps (276) to be classified.