Jalopnik spies spotted the new Nissan GT-R Le Mans race car testing at Circuit of the Americas (COTA) outside Austin, Texas. Nissan is no stranger to pushing the envelope when it comes to endurance racing, having given the world the Ben Bowlsby designed Delta Wing racer just a few seasons ago. Bowlsby is reportedly part of the GT-R team, too.
The speculation is the new GT-R will be first front engine Le Mans contestant since the Panoz more than a decade ago. We will know for certain when the car is officially revealed during this year’s Super Bowl in a few days. For now, those with motorsports crystal balls claim the car will feature a turbocharged V-6 2.0 liter engine making 600 horsepower coupled to a hybrid electric system adding another 400 horsepower. If true, that would make the Nissan the most powerful car in the field. There are other, more outlandish rumors flying around the internet that the car will have as much as 2,000 horsepower.
The more realistic speculation is that the engine is the Formula One powerplant designed and built by Cosworth in anticipation of the new-for-2014 Formula One V-6 turbo/hybrid engine package. None of the F1 teams opted to use the Cosworth powertrain, and so it has been sitting on the shelf just waiting to find a purpose in the racing world, or so the rumor goes.
Aerodynamics play a huge role in Le Mans prototype racing. Current cars strive for the smoothest airflow possible around the front of the car in order to maximize downforce from the under-car diffuser and wing at the rear. Placing the engine in front would interrupt that dynamic. But those who pretend to know about these things say the GT-R will use exhaust gasses from the engine to create a “blown diffuser” effect similar to that which Red Bull’s chief aerodynamicist, Adrien Newey. used to propel its Formula One race cars to 4 consecutive world championships.
The photos do seem to confirm the rumor that the front wheels are taller and wider than the rears, leading to speculation that they play a significant role in recapturing kinetic energy via regenerative braking. The Porsche 919 Le Mans car also employs a similar system. The rear of the car may also be narrower than the front in order to help solve some of the aerodynamic challenges presented by mounting the engine in the front of the car.
Nissan seems to have a special affection for shaking up the racing world with bold new designs and the GT-R is no exception. The car photographed at COTA is remarkably similar to an unattributed design sketch that appeared on the internet a month ago. Half joking references to the car as “the Batmobile” are sure to follow it everywhere it goes this season. You can almost hear someone at the Nissan race team telling the driver over the radio, “Quick, Robin! To the Bat Pit!”