With the driver over the rear wheels and the engine up front, the Nissan GT-R LM was unlike anything else on track at Le Mans.
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One of the most interesting—and certainly one of the most hyped—stories in motorsport this year has been Nissan's GT-R LM. And now that story has come to a close, following an announcement earlier today that the Japanese automaker is pulling the plug on the racer. The GT-R LM was designed to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans (and the other races in the World Endurance Championship), but Nissan will not contest the 2016 season of the WEC. Godzilla has been slain.
The GT-R LM was a brave idea. The car was the brainchild of Bon Bowlby, and it turned its back on everything we've learned about racing cars in the years since John Cooper first moved the engine behind the driver in the 1950s. Bowlby figured that the benefits of a mid-engine car were offset by the large rear wing it needs (necessary since the car's weight is biased toward the rear). Convinced that there was another way, for the GT-R LM he moved the cockpit right to the back of the car, with the engine and hybrid system just behind the front axle.
But the GT-R LM went further. Under the current rules, Le Mans Prototypes have to be hybrids; they can drive one pair of wheels with power from an internal combustion engine and are then allowed two other hybrid systems (motor-generator units on each axle, for example, or on one axle and a turbocharger). The GT-R's turbocharged V6 engine would power the front wheels and recover kinetic energy under braking from all four, storing that energy in a flywheel. But instead of using well-proven electric motor-generators and an electrically driven flywheel—a race-winning combination for Audi—the hybrid system was going to be entirely mechanical, with cogs and gears and driveshafts connecting each corner of the car with the flywheel.