Unveiled with bells and whistles at the 2015 Chicago Auto Show, the GT-R LM Nismo brings two major talking points in motorsport. First of all, it represents Nissan’s first return to the queen category at Le Mans 24 Hours after the R391 only managed 8th place in the 1999 race. Second of all, it is the first front-engined, front-wheel-drive car to ever race at Le Mans 24 Hours since a 1928 Alvis, from the now-defunct British carmaker.
Perhaps like you, I was equally flabbergasted and suspicious of Nissan’s announcement, thinking that the FWD GT-R LM Nismo is not much different in scope than the ill-fated ZEOD RC prototype. In other words, both models seem to take an entirely different approach to racing just for the sake of being different, thus earning marketing points for their courage. It turns out I’m not the only one following this line of thinking, so Darren Cox, Nissan’s Global Head of Brand, Marketing and Sales wanted to set things straight in this 2015 Chicago Auto Show interview.
Cox tries very hard to prove his point, but in the end I’m not entirely convinced that the reasoning behind the GT-R LM Nismo’s architecture is to try a new way of designing cars for Le Mans. Why? It’s simple, over a century of motorsport is more than proof that RWD and/or AWD is the only way to go fast around a track, with FWD cars almost always being plagued by understeer and severe front tire wear.
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Most definitely getting points for creativity, the Nissan GT-R LM Nismo’s drivetrain is the complete opposite of what you would expect from an LMP1 racer. Its twin-turbocharged, 3.0-liter, V-6 is fitted in a longitudinal, front-midship position, while the main transmission sits in front of it. I used the term "main transmission" because the GT-R LM Nismo also uses a set of epicyclic gearboxes in each of the rear wheel hubs, essentially making the model AWD on demand. The 500 horsepower developed by the powerplant is augmented by no less than 750 horsepower from a kinetic energy recovery system (KERS) that sits under the cockpit, of all places. There, two flywheels acquire energy from the front brakes, transform it into electricity and then send it via a driveshaft that goes over the engine.
All that power and probably mountains of torque are sent only to the front wheels in "normal" driving, with the occasional bursts of extra power being directed to the rear wheels via a secondary driveshaft and the aforementioned epicyclic gearboxes. I can only agree that all that mumbo-jumbo sounds a bit more complicated than your average race-car drivetrain, especially since the car weighs less than 2,000 pounds. Will it work? I sincerely doubt it, but Nissan is set to also return in 2016 with this model if things don’t go as planned this year, so maybe they will iron out any problems in the long run.