What Is It Like To Drive The Nissan GT-R LM Race Car? [w/Video]

Nissan has recently announced its plans to elbow its way into what was once a three-way battle between the Audi R18 e-tron Quattro, Porsche 919 Hybrid, and the Toyota TS030 Hybrid for the overall victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. In order to get the job done, Nissan has gone way into the deep end to create the bizarre and completely brand new GT-R LM Nismo racing car.

Unlike the modern mid-engine racing blueprint that has been established for decades, Nissan engineers today hope to wipe the drawing board clean with a front-engine, front-wheel-drive layout motivated by a 3.0-liter direct-injected, twin turbo V6 engine. When combined with KERS, the Nissan GT-R LM Nismo boasts 1250 horsepower.

“This is innovation that excites,” explained Nismo president Shoichi Miyatani. “Sustainability is at the top of our agenda and the technical regulations for Le Mans give us the freedom to pursue new ideas in this area. Our record at Le Mans is third place overall so we have unfinished business there. We want to win and we have the knowledge to do that.”

Nissan’s polarizing technical departure not only demands its race engineers rethink what is the norm, but also demands its racing drivers to change their deep rooted driving styles to suit the car as well. 2011 GT Academy champion Jann Mardenborough will be one of the nine Nissan GT-R LM Nismo drivers that will be competing at Le Mans later this year. In a recent interview with Top Gear, Mardenborough shared insightful details on what its like to drive the unique Nissan LMP car.

So far, Jann Mardenborough has only logged a total of 30 laps around the Circuit Of The Americas in the Nissan GT-R LM Nismo. What’s more, the seat time was merely for the filming of a Super Bowl advertisement back in December. In fact, the GT-R LM Nismo was outfitted without a flywheel hybrid system at the time. That said, Mardenborough still vows the GT-R LM Nismo is madly quick.

“Jumping into the car, completely stone cold, with all these new features… I wasn’t nervous but there was certainly a lot of pressure,” recalled Mardenborough. “GT-R LM Nismo and Deltawing designer Ben Bowlby sat me down and told me to take it easy… then we looked back at the telemetry and realized we were doing around 170mph down the back straight.”

“What impressed me the most was the traction,” Mardenborough continued. “At high speed cornering, the amount of downforce and drag we have is really impressive. It’s got quite a lot of straight-line speed, as well as being very slippery.

“The slow speed stuff? We’re constantly developing the car: it’s FWD, so there’s a lot of work to be done with the front differential, to maximize the straight-line traction as well as having decent traction while cornering.”

As we suspected, a FWD racing car will have trouble managing tires that must cope with the dual responsibility of turning and acceleration. However, Mardenborough says there is still plenty of untapped potential in the Nissan GT-R LM Nismo yet. Unlike most racing cars that feature a staggered tire set up with wider front treads, the GT-R LM Nismo has 14-inch wide wheels in the front and narrow 9-inch wide wheels for the rear.

Finally, as far as motorsport ambitions are concerned, Nissan is hell-bent on the singular race at Le Mans. While understeer in slow corners will be a noticeable disadvantage at endurance courses like Silverstone and Spa Francochamps, the long straights will make Le Mans the GT-R LM Nismo’s strongest race.

“I think our chances at Le Mans are going to be the best out of any other circuit we’re going to this year. We’ve got a shedload of power, and so little drag. Ben and the team have designed the car predominantly for Le Mans… The speeds we’ll reach will be exciting.”

Danny Choy