The Nissan GTR-LM, the radical front engined LMP1 car that was supposed to change the game. However the concept was entirely too radical that simple things like suspension geometry and hybrid systems didn’t even remotely come close to working. I’m not so daft as to suggest racing hybrid systems are simple, however in today’s world of factory hybrid LMP1’s it is the one thing you need to make sure works, or you won’t even come close to competing. It was a gigantic swing and miss by Nissan. However this isn’t the first time Nissan threw a shit ton of time, money, research and effort into a car that ran one race and then was axed.
Remember the Nissan P35? No? Don’t worry neither did I. It was a Le Mans Prototype built by Nissan in the early 90’s. It was the next evolution of Nissan’s Prototypes that had come close but never won Le Mans. It was a huge swing and it failed. All the ingredients were there it had a 3.5 liter V12 built to Formula 1 Specifications as were the rules back then. The engine itself was a brilliant thing, however anytime you introduce the words “Formula 1” into a motorsport costs begin to sky-rocket. This was the first indication that things may not go as expected. That said it was a thing of beauty. 12 into 1 headers, 12 individual throttle bodies, engines don’t get much sexier than that.
The VT35 as it was called was claimed to produce 620 horsepower and would scream all the way to 11. 11,600 rpm to be exact. However some teams saw significantly less. I say teams because Nissan used an interesting strategy to deploy their sportscars back then. There were 3 teams, one in Japan, one in America and one in Europe. Not one central team as is the norm today. This is another thing that escalates costs.
Test driver, Johnny O’Connell, yes that Johnny O’Connell, of Corvette and Cadillac fame described the VT35 as “about the most amazing sounding engine I have driven. It totally screamed.”
Fast forward to 2015, and Nissan was at it again, fully developing a brand new engine. In this case it was a Cosworth 3.0 liter twin turbocharged V6. Like its great grand dad, It only appeared in one race. Finished poorly, and the program was binned soon there after.
While the GTR-LM was an enormous failure, given the hype, given the Super Bowl commercial, given all their claims. It ran at Le Mans and none of the 3 cars completed enough laps to be classified. Nissan tried to engineer their way back from this catastrophe, however it quickly became apparent that the scale of the job was too much and the costs were quickly spiraling out of control. So the decision was made to end the program.
Like the GTR-LM, the P35 only competed in 1 race. Thanks to a major hit to the Japanese economy Automakers began canceling motorsport programs. In a last-ditch effort the Japanese Team ran one of the P35s. Dubbed the NP35, a single car took on the Mine circuit 500km. This was the final race in Japan’s endurance series. The NP35 qualified 10th out of 11, and went on to finish dead last. Like The GTR-LM it needed more development time. Unfortunately the budget wasn’t and the program was canceled before it really had a chance to begin.
The GTR-LM’s engine may live on as it is an approved engine option for LMP1 privateers. Much as the P35’s Chassis lived on if only briefly. The American Nissan team had been hit the hardest when Nissan was forced to cancel the bulk of its motorsport operations. 250 employees were let go but in that fighting spirit they took a P35, chopped off the roof, threw in a Ferrari motor and tried it out. They named it the X-250 after the 250 employees who were fired by Nissan. Unfortunately the car only ran 1 race, the 12 hours of Sebring. The X-250 was the first car to retire from the race, ending a sad chapter in motorsports history.