Back in 2014, the WEC experienced a return of three popular manufacturers, Porsche, Toyota and Nissan. Unlike Porsche and Toyota, who returned to show that they reigned supreme and to ultimately end Audi’s winning streak at the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans, Nissan’s return was more focused on the technological showcase of its racing department. They would present their technology in the complicated, yet visually striking GT-R LM Nismo prototype. However, before the GT-R LM came onto the scene, Nissan made an appearnce before the GT-R LM in the WEC, infact the same year that the LMP1 protoype was announced. The car in question, which was engineered by Nismo, Nissan’s motorsport divison, and named the ZEOD RC. An unusually shaped hybrid powered by a Nissan DIG-T R 1.5-liter three-cylinder turbo engine, producing an impressive 400bhp from a engine which weighed only 40kg. The ZEOD raced at Le Mans that year however had to retire within the early hours of the race due to gearbox failure.
The uniquely shaped hybrid, ZEOD RC.
Aside from the failure of the ZEOD RC, Nissan did have a previous Le Mans prototype that was entered. The Nissan R391 was Nissan’s first attempt at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which was a replacement for the R390 GT1 although the two cars were raced in different regulations. After the R390 GT1 could no longer race due to it not being legal to race in production-based classes, Nissan decided to look towards prototype cars, hence research and development went into the open cock-pit Nissan R391. Nissan turned to the UK based firm G-Force Technologies to design and build the R391, developing a 5.0L VRH50A V8 an engine being larger than the older R390 which was a VRH35L 3.5L turbocharged V8. The older engines were given to Courage Compétition, a longtime customer of buy secondhand sports cars from Nissan, who would use the engine for their own prototype racers. The R391 had some success during its year of opeartion, two were entered during the 1999 24 Hours of Le Mans with Nissan’s chassis, and a third which was running Courage’s C52 chassis with the older VRH35L motor. One of the R391 with the Nissan chassis qualified for the race where as the second R391, being driven by Eric van de Poele, crashed during the first qualifying session, damaging the car beyond repair. Van de Poele also suffered a broken vertebra in the accident, but would be able to recover. Thus Nissan would be forced to race with only a single R391. However due to an electrical problem the remaining R391 had to retire, leaving the remaining R391 with the Courage chassis the remaining entrant. The car respectably finished the endurance event in 8th position.
The remaing R391 after the end of the 1999 Le Mans 24 hours race.
Nissan would make another appearance at the 1000km of Fuji, with Toyota with the GT-One as the major competator for the R391. The Nissan would triumph over Toyota automatically gaining access into the 2000 Le Mans 24 Hours. Although Nissan was automatically granted access, Nissan officials decided that the motorsports program was no longer worth the cost, especially with Nissan attempting to restructure itself under new leader Carlos Ghosn. With only a single victory for their sportscar program since 1995, it was decided that Nissan would immediately end the R391 project in early 2000, leaving Nissan’s only motorsports program to be in JGTC. Nissan would therefore turn down its automatic entry to the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Thus ending the run of the R391.
It wouldn’t be until 2014 that Nissan would make a dramatic return to the WEC and Le Mans with the GT-R LM Nismo prototype. This car was to compete with the likes of the reigning Audi R18, and the new, returning, entrants of Porsche with the 919 Hybrid and the Toyota TS040. The four manufacturers were the stars of the race, and indead the 2014 season, yet the Nismo powered GT-R LM was one of the car which got a lot of attention. The engineering behind the car was partly due to the chief designer Ben Bowbly being briefed by Nissan to not make an ‘Audi Copy’, meaning the layout of the drivetrain and engine was to differ from the Audi. The resulting product was this, a Nissan VRX30A 3.0 L (3,000 cc) direct-injected twin-turbocharged V6 engine in a longitudinal front mid-engine configuration. A front engined car, a design not seen since 2003 with the Panoz LMP01 Evo. As a result the car was front heavy, and with this weight bias as well as the power output towards to front axle, the wheels are offset to balance the car. Tyres in the front are 14 in (360 mm) wide, while the rear tyres are only 9 in (230 mm) wide.
The ambitious Nismo GT-R LM
Originally, only two cars were going to be entered for the 2015 season of the WEC, yet a third car was to be raced during the 24 Hours of Le Mans. After footage of the GT-R being tested at the Circuit of the America was posted, hype ensued. The car recieved both positive and negative feedback due to the designing and engineering. The 24 Hours of Le Mans proved catastrophic for Nissan and before the end of the race all three cars were out. This was due to problems, one being the hybrid systems not working properly and two being the suspension which didn’t allow the car to run kerbs. After Le Mans, Nissan announced they were pulling out of racing until they could get the hybrid systems working again, however Nissan cancelled the project. Some might say that Le Mans 2015 proved disaterous for Nissan, however you could look at the bright side of things. Nissan has always been ambitious when it comes to motorsport, always trying to push the technological boundaries of their cars, yet ambition can prove to be the biggest flaw, hence Nissan had failed, but who knows, Nissan could always come up with surprises, we may need to wait a while until Nissan unveils plans for another LMP1 prototype, only time will tell.