Warm-Up Lap: Nissan GTR LM NISMO Testing

The Nissan GTR LM NISMO race car has only one purpose in life — to win the Le Mans 24 Hours endurance race in June. It has been designed specifically to excel on that race track and that race track only.  For instance, the driver enters and exits the car on the same side he will do so during the Le Mans race. On track testing has been conducted exclusively at tracks that most closely resemble parts of the Le Sarthe circuit in Le Mans. If it wins there, it won’t matter whether it’s slow everywhere else.

The racer designed by Ben Bowlby is unique. It is the only front engine, front wheel drive race car ever built and the only one in Le Mans racing today. The Nissan GTR LM is said to have a twin turbocharged 2.0 liter V-6 engine putting out 600 horsepower up front, supplemented by a 400 horsepower electric motor driving the front and rear wheels. That’s a total of 1,000 horsepower — more than any other car in the field. Because it relies heavily on the front wheels for acceleration, the tires up front are significantly wider than those at the rear.

Who would design such a cockamamie car? It shouldn’t surprise you that the chief designer is none other than Ben Bowlby, the same mad genius who gave us the highly innovative Delta Wing Le Mans racer of a few years ago. Because the new car is so unusual,  most of its design and testing has been done on computers. Computational flow analysis has been used to predict its performance on track and to design the highly unusual aerodynamics of the car that direct air from underneath the car over the engine and radiators and up over the top. This is completely antithetical to how most race cars are designed today.

The testing will continue right up until the Le Mans race weekend this year. The Nissan team has deliberately skipped all the races before the Le Mans race so it can concentrate on further testing of a car that is, for all intents and purposes, unlike any other race car — ever. Bowlby may be a gifted race car designer; he certainly has a flair for unconventional designs. But has little to show for it. The Delta Wing was a dismal failure, failing to ever complete a full race distance.

Will Bowlby and Nissan bring home the trophy this year at Le Mans? If not, it’s not for lack of trying. Watch the race itself on June 13 and 14th to find out.


Steve Hanley

Closely following the transition from internal combustion to electricity. Whether it's cars, trucks, ships, or airplanes, sustainability is the key. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.