SJB Classic Article - Was Nissan's LMP1 Car Doomed to Fail


Originally Posted on SJB Supercars - http://www.sjbsupercars.com/single-post/2016/1/14/Was-Nissan%E2%80%99s-LMP1-Car-Doomed-to-Fail


January 14, 2016 | Sean Smith

SJB new boy Sean Smith takes a look at the 2015 Nissan LMP1 programme and wonders if the car ever had a fighting chance in the cruel reality of the WEC.

 

 The Nissan GTR-Nismo LMP1 car may go down in history as the biggest flop of a major company in the motorsport world in the 21st century. The ambitious front engine, front wheel drive car, designed by Deltawing designer Ben Bowlby, was certainly a shock to the system when Nissan previewed it at the 2014 Season NFL Super Bowl. The advert showed exhausts spitting flames out the bonnet and the car flying round the track at warp speeds, sadly though when we finally did see the car on track at the Le Mans test week prior to the 24hours, after a lengthy and extended delay, the scale of the ambitious task began to appear. Nissan were, at best, 29 seconds off the pace.

There were rumors at the time the car was only bedding itself in and the drivers were learning the track whilst there was slight rain in France that week. Everyone was waiting for the believed 1200bhp Monster to unleash itself on the iconic Mulsanne straight.

Come mid-June reality struck hard, Nissan were plagued with problems all week with Max Chilton barely getting enough laps to qualify for the race, the mostly Nissan powered LMP2 class were faster than at least 2 of the 3 cars for most of the week before the GTR heaved itself to 12th, 14th and 15th on the grid, 20 seconds off the pace, behind the privateer (non car manufacturer and non hybrid) ByKolles and Rebellion Racing teams and split by the LMP2 pole car the KCMG teams Nissan powered Oreca. The cars were then sent to the back of the grid for being too slow (outside 110% of the class pole) and from then on had a disastrous race. With one car crossing the line, last in its class and disqualified thereafter for not completing 70% of the race distance, and the other two retiring.

If the 24hrs hadn’t been so rich in news that year from F1 driver Nico Hulkenberg winning the race at his first try, Porsche winning on the second year of their return, a petrol powered car winning for the first time since 2005, and the lap record being destroyed in qualifying to the tune of a second with cars considerably less powerful that the 2008 beasts they succeeded, Nissan’s failure would have been ridiculed. The car then went into hiding and was never seen again at the WEC, Nissan scrapped the project just before Christmas.

At the Silverstone season opener event back in April 2015 I was lucky enough to go into the Nissan garage and actually sit in the GTR-Nismo. Remarkably all 6ft 1 of me fitted. The car wasn’t ready to race by any means; the engine was out and the huge aero ducts that ran through the whole car were covered up, but was nonetheless an undoubtedly beautiful piece of machinery.

I believe Nissan had a multitude of problems which led to its failure, chief among which were laid down when the car was first conceptualised. Nissan gave the brief to not reproduce an Audi, and to be completely original, which it undoubtedly was. But they went too far for the time.

The front engine layout could have worked, in the WEC’s GT category Aston Martin, Chevrolet and Dodge have used front engine designs and all been successful. Chevrolet won the GT class at Le Mans last year and Dodge won the Tudor United Sports Car Series in 2014. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with the ethos. Even the front wheel drive plan had merit, the BTCC and touring cars in general are front wheel designs and often beat or compete with the rear wheel drive cars. But they go a lot slower than a LMP1 car. The strain the tyres would have been under going through 150+mph corners would have been horrific. Nissan countered this by putting on huge 14 inch wide front tyres compared to 9 inch wide rears. But the car never looked happy, often understeering and struggling to put its power down.

The combination of tying their hands behind there back with a supposedly inferior drivetrain and layout is only shown up more when you look at the WEC which has progressed hugely with the new Hybrid technology introduced in 2012. The cars are 7 seconds quicker than that year and the other teams, Porsche, Audi and Toyota have mastered the reliability of their systems. If Nissan had even been on pace, all three of their rivals suffered from reliability in their debut years, it would have been a miracle if Nissan got it right first time.

Nissan did have a saving grace back home in Japan because Toyota suffered a bad year as well going from winning all but 2 races in 2014 to being a long way behind the Germans in 2015. If that hadn’t been the case, Nissan would have undoubtedly lost face in its home market which would have been a PR disaster. That would either have had them strive to get better or pull the plug even earlier than they did.

Nissan may come back to the WEC, they may not. The GTR-Nismo may be taken back to the drawing board, taking the great ideas it has such as the whole car having ducts coursing through it in theory giving huge levels of downforce for tiny amounts of drag. The base engine is good, the hybrid system, although never properly used, could produce one of the fastest ever cars to go down the Mulsanne straight. But it cannot be denied that Nissan are undoubtedly a nail in their own coffin and the task was too great for such a radical car in the current WEC to be successful in such a short timescale.