Nissan's new WEC contender, which was unveiled to the public during one of the Super Bowl's many commercial breaks, will bring a radical – if not entirely new – look to the sportscar series this season.
The striking machine, unveiled in bold red colours, is a front-engined, front-wheel-drive car powered by a V6 3-litre twin turbo petrol engine and a kinetic energy recovery system. Its looks are reminiscent of the more extreme Deltawing car currently racing in the USA, perhaps not surprising given the involvement of Ben Bowlby in both projects.
“These cars represent the pinnacle of current racing technology - huge energy recovery systems, super fuel-efficient engines and wild aerodynamics - creating extremely fast cars for their weight and endurance,” Bowlby, now Nissan's LMP1 team principal, pointed out, “These are 24-hour racing cars that cover practically a whole F1 season in one Le Mans race.
“It's a very different challenge to F1 and much more relevant to what's going on in road cars. If you drive from, say, London to Edinburgh you expect the car to get through the miles and be fast, stable, comfortable and safe and provide the handling and grip you might need if you have to come off the motorway and take some back roads – that's the sort of challenge that Le Mans represents. It's all about having a fast, efficient and safe car.”
Nissan might have been absent from the top class at Le Mans for 16 years, but the company has been very active in other categories, building an envied sportscar ladder that runs from the new LMP3 category, through a world-beating engine supply programme in LMP2, and onto the top step to LMP1 via the ACO's clever 'Garage 56' programme, a unique class at Le Mans reserved for innovative technology that falls outside of the normal regulations, and which allowed the Nissan-powered Deltawing a shot at Le Mans in 2012 and the ensuing ZEOD project a similar appearance last year.
“Our LMP3 engine supply programme is a new venture for us but, if it is nearly as successful as our LMP2 programme, we will be very proud of our achievements,” NISMO president Shoichi Miyatani insisted, “Our LMP2 engine has powered teams to championship victories and class wins at Le Mans. Our 'Garage 56' projects have led us to LMP1 and the innovations that we have employed. Enormous lessons were learned from the very heavy hybridisation of the Nissan ZEOD RC and we've carried those lessons over into this project.”
Nissan will be taking on sportscar giants Audi, Porsche and current world champion Toyota on its return, but is unfazed by the prospect.
“We are excited to be going head-to-head with the best sportscar racing manufacturers in the world,” head of marketing and brand strategy Roel de Vries commented, “LMP1 is a proving ground for technological innovation, especially when it comes to the power sources of the future. In 2014, three different manufacturers using three different powertrain combinations won races - if you ever needed proof that LM P1 is the sharp end, this is it.”
The FIA World Endurance Championship provides manufacturers with the opportunity to develop new technologies for its road car range. With energy-efficiency being the key, there is no greater test for technology than a 24-hour endurance race where the gap between first and second place can be a matter of seconds after 24 hours of racing, but this is a challenge that Nissan has accepted and the Nissan NISMO team will fight to get onto the top step of the podium like it has never fought before.
“All I want is to be sure that the team did its best,” said NISMO's Darren Cox, “What we're aiming for is to have executed to the best of our ability and that's what we're focusing on. There's a lot we can't control, for example, we don't know where our rivals are going to be when we get to the first race. If we've all done our best, I'll be delighted, and good results will come if we continue to do our best.
“Our goals and targets are simply to do our best. I think that, as a group, our best will lead to some great results.”