Nissan’s Peculiar Le Mans Race Car is Put Out to Pasture
Between the Nissan Juke, the Japanese Kei-inspired Cube, the Murano CrossCabriolet experiment, or even the Leaf, it’s safe to say that Nissan’s not exactly afraid of taking risks with its vehicles. In some instances — the Leaf and the Juke — the experiments worked out exceptionally well, and customers have responded with praise. Others, like the Murano convertible, didn’t exactly play out.
But Nissan’s tendency to give the status quo a kick isn’t relegated to its road cars. After an adventure with DeltaWing that fell through for multiple reasons, Nissan set its sights on a Le Mans Prototype class (LMP) vehicle. In true fashion, it kicked the traditional race car blueprint to the curb.
The GT-R Le Mans car featured an unusual front-engine, front-wheel drive layout (unheard in modern LMP1 class racing), and its odd aerodynamic profile set it apart visually from every other contestant. However, after a handful of outings, it was apparent that the unique layout wasn’t going to cut it. So Nissan is scrapping the program.
“The teams worked diligently to bring the vehicles up to the desired performance levels. However, the company concluded that the program would not be able to reach its ambitions and decided to focus on developing its longer term racing strategies,” Nissan said in its press release. “Racing is a core part of the Nissan DNA, and the company has a proud history of innovating to win. Nissan’s commitment to motorsports remains strong, as evidenced by its victorious track record in the 2015 season – from achieving the overall winner of Super GT two years in a row in Japan, to winning the Blancpain Endurance Pro Class, Bathurst 12hr race with the GT-R GT3. Nissan will continue its support of WEC through its various engine programs including recent introduction of LMP3 engine,” it concluded.
The Nissan LMP experiment and its eventual fall-through is a double-sided sword: Teams that don’t put themselves out there risk missing out on potentially huge benefits of thinking outside the box. However, on the flip-side, developing and fielding an LMP car is incredibly expensive. Seeing a project make it to the circuit for race day and then have to drop out doesn’t exactly instill Nissan’s bean counters with confidence, and other teams and companies looking on will become less likely to try something new and different as a result.
Thomas Edison and his assistants were said to develop thousands of prototypes for the first commercially viable lightbulb. When asked if he considered those odds a failure, he replied curtly, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Nissan has found one of countless ways that a Le Mans Prototype car won’t work, though it’s gratuitously more expensive than a lightbulb.
Though the program had been on the block for some time — rumors likely began following Nissan’s poor showing at Le Mans earlier this year — engineers and employees were rather unceremoniously canned, the week of Christmas, nonetheless. “According to one team source, those attempting to enter the building found access codes had changed and were locked out,” Racer reported. Because many were on holiday at the time, they found out via the Internet as the news broke.
Hopefully Nissan will come back with another outlandish design soon — it keeps things interesting. And if it doesn’t make it back to LMP for the foreseeable future, here’s to hoping those engineers and staff get back to work elsewhere. The racing world needs more black sheep.
Like classics? It’s always Throwback Thursday somewhere.