One of the biggest curiosities in motorsports this year is Nissan Motorsports’ entry into the premier LMP1 category of the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race with a front-engine front-wheel drive car. On May 31st Nismo’s unique looking GT-R LM Nismo, will be turning its wheels in competitive anger and going up against a field full of mid-engine rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive cars in the LMP1 category.
Ever since Ferdinand Porsche's pioneering work in mid-engine race cars, mid-engine rear-wheel drive has become the template by which almost all race cars follow. A mid-engine rear-wheel drive layout allows for better balance, traction, and packaging, and rear-wheel drive makes it easier for drivers to tame high engine power outputs. However Nismo thinks that they have found a Le Mans’ winning formula in utilising a front-engine, front-wheel drive layout as detailed in the latest video from the Nismo University series.
Since the GT-R LM Nismo features a 3-litre twin-turbo V6 engine and flywheel kinetic energy recovery system is located behind the front axle, it is technically having a front mid-engine configuration with the gearbox located in front of the engine. Thanks to its long and flat bonnet, Nismo says that the GT-R LM Nismo is able to generate a huge amount of downforce on high speed corners, at the same time it is aerodynamically efficient for it to conserve fuel while speeding down the Circuit de la Sarthe’s incredibly long Mulsanne straight. Considering the importance of fuel efficiency in an endurance race, the GT-R LM Nismo’s shape might just give them the edge to take top honours at Le Mans.
One of the biggest challenges with front-wheel drive is quelling the onset of understeer in slow-speed corners, however team principal Ben Bowlby explains that the team plans to address the issue through the use of innovative aerodynamic aids and traction control strategies. What’s more having an engine in the front means that the car is intrinsically more stable that a mid-engine configuration, and therefore less prone to spinning in rainy conditions as seen in last year’s World Endurance Championship race at the Circuit of the Americas.
All said and done the test of the pudding is in the tasting and we will have to wait till May 31st when Nismo puts it through 24 Hours of the most gruelling endurance racing to see if they are right.