LMP1 RETROSPECTIVE EP5 – 2015 NISSAN GT-R LM NISMO
The 23rd of May, 2014. The day that Nissan announced its return to the big stage of endurance racing, competing against the big boys Porsche, Toyota and reigning champion Audi in LMP1.
Nissan already had some experience at LeMans. Their first attempt in 1986 with the R85V resulted in a 16th place finish. The best they managed was with the R90C in 1990, ending up in 5th place. Nissan continued with the Skyline GT-R LM in ‘95, the R390 GTI in ’97 and the R391 in ’99 until the program was shut down in 2000 by Carlos Ghosn as part of a structural reorganisation at Nissan, cutting the divisions that weren’t necessary.
Nissan returned as an engine supplier for LMP2 cars in 2011, as their VK45DE proved as a strong and reliable powerhouse. Nissan also fielded two entries in the Garage 56 category, a non-competitive slot for innovate concepts, with the DeltaWing (2012) and ZEOD RC (2014), both recognisable for their very narrow front end. Both had to be retired early in the race however, with the DeltaWing running into a concrete barrier after only 75 laps and the ZEOD having a gearbox failure in the early hours of the race.
Ben Bowlby, the one responsible for the design of the DeltaWing and ZEOD, would lead the design for this project as well. He was known for his different ideas, and that this car wouldn’t be like the competitors as well wasn’t a secret. He set up base in Indianapolis as the car went through it’s first tests in Stanfield, Arizona, before moving near the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. Early spy shot revealed the car using a front engine layout, something that wasn’t used since the Panoz Roadster-S back in 2003. The car was supposed to be revealed in Europe, but Nissan instead opted to use a Superbowl commercial to reveal the car.
The core of the GT-R LM is a three litre, twin turbocharged, direct injected V6 called the VRX30A and was codeveloped with Cosworth. It develops 550 horsepower on it’s own, but including the hybrid system the car produces 1250 horsepower. Said hybrid system is not like the ones their competitors Porsche and Toyota had in their cars. It makes use of a rotating flywheel to catch the energy during braking, and unleashes it during acceleration. Audi did have something similar in their cars, but that made use of an electronic clutch. What the Nissan used is purely mechanical. All the power that unit unleashes, together with the engine power, is directed through a hydraulic sequential gearbox in front of the engine and delivered at the front wheels.
Yes. You read that correctly. The GT-R LM is a front wheel driven racing car, and there’s a good reason why. The rear aerodynamics are completely governed by a strict ruleset. The rear wing, vertical stabiliser and other aerodynamic applications all have to follow certain dimensions, rendering them less effective than they can be. By moving the engine and drive more towards the front, the centre of mass would shift along with it and require more frontal downforce, something not as strictly regulated. By doing this the rear aerodynamics could be improved to be more efficient with the airflow. At the sides massive air tunnels guide the air used at the front towards the back to reduce the negative effects of the low pressure zone generated behind the car, further decreasing air resistance.
All these changes meant that the front wheels needed to be wider than usual, at 360 millimetres at the front and only 230 millimetres on the rear. Michelin worked closely with Nissan to find the right compound and balance of the tires.
Testing resumed in February at Palm Beach International Raceway in Florida, where it undertook the first tests at night, before moving to Michelin Laurens Proving Grounds located in South Carolina the same month for straight line speed testing. March saw it running at Sebring International Speedway for a week of continuous testing
However, as everything that’s new and innovative, it wasn’t free of problems. During the tests at Sebring the engine mounts failed, ending the test session prematurely after only two days. Another problem had to do with the way the engineers interpreted the rules. This was different from how the organisers viewed them, resulting in a redesign of the chassis and mounting the energy recovery system via the windscreen, making it a complex and frustrating unit.
Then the results of the crash tests, which are mandated by the FIA, came in and those didn’t come with positive news either. It failed to meet the criteria as the car’s front roll hoop got damaged. And as long as that issue wasn’t addressed the car wasn’t allowed to race. The FIA also mandated that the doors should be redesigned as they decided they needed an anti-burst load. After the second failure to comply with the crash tests the entire structure of the doors was altered, which was successful and the car managed to pass at the third attempt. With that done it could resume it’s testing sessions at NCM Motorsports Park at Bowling Green, Kentucky, before finally heading towards the Circuit de la Sarthe.
During testing at LeMans, officials had taken a look at the Nissan’s rear view mirrors, which were located on the inner edge of the fenders. Even though this wasn’t seen as an issue before, all three the cars had to go back in to get the mirrors relocated, despite the fact they weren’t used often as the cars had rear view cameras equipped. This was still a minor issue compared to the problems the energy recovery system was given, still refusing to work properly and eventually unable to be used during the race. Resulting in the car having to run with only it’s 550hp strong internal combustion engine and bringing it down to near LMP2 levels of performance, which is everything but good for a car racing in LMP1.
The race results weren’t all that great as a result of that. Only one of the three GT-R LMs made it to the end of the race. The No. 21 suffered a tire failure after only 151 laps driven and was unable to make it back to the garage, while No. 23 came to a smoking halt due to a transmission breakdown at 234 laps travelled. The No. 22 car couldn’t avoid problems either as it hit on track debris and needed a lengthy repair in the garage. It did manage to cross the line, but it didn’t get enough laps in to be classified at only 242 laps. Porsche took the win that year with the 919 Hybrid, completing a total of 395 laps with the winning car.
After the nightmare Nissan decided to pull out of the WEC and focus on improving and mostly solving the issues of the car for the 2016 season. The car indeed underwent further testing at the Circuit of the Americas and NOLA Motorsports Park situated in Avondale, Louisiana, but on the 22nd of December 2015 Nissan announced they would put a halt on the entire project. Later information revealed that a new and redesigned 2016 spec GT-R LM was in the works, but due to delivery problems with some of the required parts the project got scrapped.
Most people view the GTR LM as a failure. However, the car managed to keep ahead of the LMP2 racers even though it was down on power. This suggests that the idea might have worked in reality if the problems were solved in time. As the days of the LMP1 category are coming to an end, we will never know how fast a front wheel driven car in that category could’ve been.
This article is the fifth part of a six-article collaboration in remembrance of the LMP1 regulations coming to an end this year. We all picked a weird, wonderful or special car to write about as a tribute. The sixth and last part will be published tomorrow, so stay tuned.