Why Is The Nissan GT-R LMP NISMO Front Wheel Drive?

In about a month, the Nissan GT-R LMP NISMO race car will take to the track at Le Mans in search of an outright win in the world’s most grueling motor race. Unlike every other car in the race, the Nissan entry will be a front engine, front wheel drive car. Why?

To understand that answer to that question, you need to know that the chief designer behind the project is none other than aerodynamicist Ben Bowlby, the mad genius who gave the world the the innovative DeltaWing racer a few years back. That car featured a pair of rear wheels set far apart at the rear and two wheels side by side at the front. The concept was radical but did not result in any race wins. In fact, the car never actually finished a race, although that was not always its fault, as it got nudged of the track by other competitors on several occasions.

Now Bowlby is back with another concept that is even more radical than the Delta Wing. It’s called the Nissan GT-R LMP NISMO and it has a 1,250 horsepower hybrid powertrain mounted in the front of the car and driving the front wheels. Because understeer — the tendency to run wide in corners — is a characteristic of front wheel drive cars, the front tires are 14″ wide. The rears, which do little but keep the back of the car from dragging on the pavement, are only 9 inches wide.

Bowlby says his new car, with its long front end, forces airflow underneath the front of the car and creates more aerodynamic downforce than the other rear wheel drive cars it will face on the track. That downward pressure forces the tires against the pavement to allow higher cornering speeds. That’s the theory anyway.

The new race car is optimized for Le Mans, which features some of the longest straightaways of any race track in the world. In fact, Nissan has chosen not to race it at any of the other endurance races on the calendar so far this year so it can concentrate on its Le Mans debut.

Will the GT-R LMP NISMO shock the racing world and take home top honors? Or will it be another curiosity, a mere footnote in racing history like the Delta Wing? Ask us on June 7  at noon when this year’s Le Mans endurance race will conclude.

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.