In the run-up to Nissan’s return to top-class prototype racing, the Japanese manufacturer appears to be struggling with problem after problem. Ever since the new GT-R LM NISMO’s first test in November, all that has been coming out of the latest LMP1 factory challenger has been bad news. Just weeks before the 24 Hours of Le Mans, at which the GT-R LM NISMO is set to make its competitive debut, there are once again concerns over the new prototype.
Nissan’s new LMP1 prototype was supposed to be a radical attempt at interpreting the LMP1 regulations. But instead of mixing it up with the likes of Audi, Porsche and Toyota at the head of the field, the Japanese manufacturer has yet to see any competitive on-track action. The problems have been mounting ever since the first test in Sebring at the start of 2015. The breakthrough new front-engined concept proved less stable than first thought and the car suffered from vibration problems. The GT-R LM NISMO then failed the mandated FIA crash tests, meaning that it could not be homologated in time for the first two rounds of the season. Although the car has subsequently passed the FIA crash-test process, the team has yet another setback to contend with. Now the hybrid unit and the planned four-wheel drive system are giving engineers further headaches.
Eight weeks before the big WEC debut, the Japanese team seem unable to escape the run of bad luck. As the problems with the hybrid drive cannot be rectified in such a short space of time, Nissan is likely to race initially with a cut-back version of its energy recovery system. There will be no high-performance electric motor to drive the rear wheels and provide four-wheel drive. Instead, the team will focus on the front axle and enter a smaller MJ category. Which category it intends to enter remains a mystery.
Nissan has been concentrating on its last major test before final homologation over the past week. In Kentucky, drivers were supposed to spend time acclimatising to the new front-wheel drive system and identify any areas of improvement. However, the weather gods didn’t want to play ball and persistent rain drenched the track. The team still managed to put down some 2,000km in four days. It may be a considerable number of testing miles, but Nissan is still playing catch-up in terms of its LMP1 competitors, who all already have one six-hour race under their belts. What’s more, Nissan is said to have completed just 5,800km of testing since November, while Audi, Porsche and Toyota ran between 5,900km and 6,500km in just four days in pre-season testing. Even without the other teams’ race experience, Nissan still has a lot of ground to make up.
The clock is ticking. If Nissan really intend to take their spot on the grid at Le Mans on 13th June, they must homologate the car one month prior to raceday. Given that Le Mans officially begins with the mandatory Test Day on 31st May, Nissan only have until 30th April to develop the car before it is locked in.