FRANKLIN, Tennessee — Nissan is returning to the top-tier category of endurance racing after a 16-year absence. The team will enter the radical new Nissan GT-R LM Nismo in the 24 Hours of Le Mans on June 13.
The company's plans were announced in May 2014, with testing starting in November. The GT-R LM Nismo was finally revealed alongside the 2016 Nissan Maxima during a 2015 Super Bowl commercial.
Steve Yaeger, technology and motorsports communication manager for Nissan North America, says the company is excited to get back into the premier class at Le Mans. "P1 is the pinnacle of endurance racing — the best of the best factory teams," Yaeger said. "A company can test the most advanced materials, performance and hybrid technologies under the most difficult conditions there."
Nissan's entry differs radically from the designs of the other LMP1 cars. While all of the factory teams use hybrid powertrains, Nissan places its engine in front of the driver and sends power to the front wheels as opposed to the midengine layout of the other cars. The long hood allows Nissan designers to use the entire length of the hood as an aerodynamic device.
Rules in LMP1 are more relaxed when it comes to the design at the front of the car, and Nissan believes this freedom will give it an advantage over the other teams. With the increased freedom, lead designer Ben Bowlby and team focused on making the front of the car as aerodynamically efficient as possible. Because of the emphasis on the front, a small rear wing and narrow rear wheels are used. The exhaust from the all-new 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 exits from the top of the hood and flows over the car to aid aerodynamics.
"Competing at Le Mans is a mammoth task, even more so with an incredibly innovative front-engine, front-wheel-drive racecar," Yaeger said. "The run at Le Mans and remainder of the 2015 WEC schedule are valuable opportunities to gather data for the 2016 season, when the car's full potential will be unleashed."
Although it's difficult to determine what sort of technology might bleed down to Nissan production vehicles, racing has always been a breeding ground for new and innovative tech.
Nissan will enter three cars at Le Mans, numbered 21, 22 and 23, but only numbers 22 and 23 will compete in the remaining races in the 2015 season. Car 21 will compete with a special livery commemorating Nissan's Le Mans pole position 25 years ago. Drivers range from ex-F1 racers to graduates of Nissan's GT Academy.
"Nissan is excited to be jumping back into the premier class at Le Mans with a new car, new design, talented new team and a great team of young drivers," Yaeger said. "Watch how our three GT Academy 'gamer to racer' drivers fare on track against the best in the world. They've proven they can compete and win in other classes; now they get to race in the top-tier class at the biggest race in the world."
While racing in Europe, the team will be based out of Silverstone in the U.K.. The permanent headquarters is located in Indianapolis.
Edmunds says: With the economy slowly recovering, factory efforts in the World Endurance Championship have grown in the past three seasons. Nissan will compete to become only the second Japanese manufacturer to win overall honors at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.