Nissan will unveil its hybrid Le Mans contender later this year
Nissan will join the battle of the front-running hybrids at Le Mans next year with a new car that’ll wear the name of its showroom racer, the GT-R.
The prospect of another factory-backed team joining Audi, Toyota and Porsche will be welcome news to Le Mans fans still revelling in the 2014 24-hour race, one of the most exciting in recent years.
Nissan has named the car the GT-R LM Nismo and promised that it’ll be instantly recognisable. Speaking at the launch of the car in London, Nissan global No.3 Andy Palmer said: “We won’t be turning up in a vehicle which is a basically another hybrid that looks like another Porsche, Audi or Toyota - they all look the same to me - our intention is to do something that is a little bit different.”
No details were given about the drivetrain, but Le Mans rules mean it’ll have to be hybrid to compete in the leading category. Nissan enthusiasm hasn’t been dimmed by this year’s race, where its experimental ZEOD hybrid racer was forced to retire after just five laps due to gearbox problems. The race was eventually won by Audi, who climbed to the front late on after Porsche lost its lead due to mechanical problems.
Nissan had better luck in the LMP2 class, where the top five finishers were powered by Japanese-built Nissan engines.
The decision to use the GT-R name could prove to be a further hint that Nissan plans to use a hybrid system for the next version of its supercar-taunting sportscar. The current GT-R uses a twin-turbocharged V6 engine making 537bhp, but Nissan is keen to promote electrification as it continues in its uphill struggle to convert buyers to electric cars and its own Nissan Leaf.
Nissan has competed in the top-league of Le Mans before when it first entered the R390 GT1 in 1997. Gearbox issues made that a pretty dismal year, with only one car finishing out of three entered, but the firm had more luck next year when all four cars finished, with the highest placed coming third. Porsche won in 1998, the last time it has stood on the top step of the podium.
One driver of the 2015 car could be Jann Mardenborough, a past winner of Nissan’s GT PlayStation video game academy and now a seasoned Le Mans racer after a good performance this year in the one-time front running Oak Racing Liger/Nissan in the LMP2 class.