The Fallen Godzilla - 2015 Nissan GT-R LM Nismo

The 24 Hours of Le Mans has always been the holy grail of endurance racing with famous names such as Ferrari, Porsche, Audi, Ford (Shelby) and so much more have triumphed in the grueling 24 hours at the Circuit de la Sarthe. Many have tried and failed, and one of them is Nissan. Nissan has been very successful in touring car and GT racing but luck has always turned around when it comes to Le Mans. Nissan first participated in 1986 with the R85V which finished 16th in its first ever attempted. The best they have ever finished was 5th back in 1990 with the R90CP. Nissan continued with the NISMO GT-R LM in 1995, the R390 GT1 in 1997, 1998 and the R391 in 1999 until Carlos Ghosn shut down the program in 2000 as the division was not needed while Nissan was going through restructure under Ghosn’s leadership.

Nissan returned as an engine supplier for LMP2s with the Nissan VK45DE in 2011 as it proves to be a reliable and strong in performance. With that Nissan also fielded two Garage 56 entries in 2012 with the DeltaWing and in 2014 with the ZEOD RC but both retired early in the race.

Then in 2014, Nissan announced that they will return to the big stage as a factory-backed entry in LMP1 competing with Audi, Toyota and Porsche with two privateers Rebellion and Kolles. The identity of the car remained a mystery. Nissan set up their base in Indianapolis as the car began it first shakedown in Arizona before the team moved down to the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. The car was reported being tested by longtime Nissan driver Michael Krumm and GT Academy winner Jann Mardenborough.

The GT-R LM NISMO being stripped out for installation lap

The GT-R LM NISMO being stripped out for installation lap

The GT-R LM during a testing session in COTA

The GT-R LM during a testing session in COTA

The car was going through test at the end of 2014 and early 2015 as spy shots suggested a front-engine layout.

The car identity was first released during the Super Bowl 49 (XLIX) in Nissan’s commercial “With Dad” and follow that a video from team NISMO.

The name GT-R marked the first time Nissan used the name for the prototype. But soon speculations began of the behemoth Godzilla due to its front-engine layout and short development time.

The car aerodynamics was for low drag for the high speed environment of the Mulsanne straight. All LMP1 cars in the fields are all-wheel drive but Nissan boldly used the front-engine layout for the first time since the Panoz LMP01 Evo back in 2003, but unlike the Panoz which is rear-wheel drive. This Godzilla is front-wheel drive powers by a gearbox located in front of the engine but used the flywheel system. The flywheels gain energy from the use of the front brakes then discharges that energy back to the front wheels via a driveshaft running over the top of the combustion engine. The flywheels can also output power to a secondary driveshaft which is connected to a limited-slip differential at the rear of the car which feeds epicyclic gearboxes located in each rear wheel hub, allowing the GT-R to be all-wheel drive if necessary. Because the car was heavier in the front and power primarily directed to the front so the wheels are offset to balance the car. The front wheel is 14 inches wide while the rear wheel however is 9 inches wide.

The engine is a 3.0L dual turbocharge V6 VRX30A with direct injection which Nissan and Cosworth co-developed. The combustion engine produces about 500 hp with the flywheel system 750 hp which makes this Godzilla a 1250 hp beast of a machine.

The Nissan VRX30A being used on the GT-R LM

The Nissan VRX30A being used on the GT-R LM

Nissan was planning to field two cars for the 2015 World Endurance Championship season with car No. 22 and car No. 23 but problems during testing forced the GT-R to stay at the States as they miss the pre-season testing at Paul Ricard and also missing the first two rounds of the championship.

The team then decided to field three cars for the 3rd round of the season: The 24 Hours of Le Mans. Car No. 22 and No. 23 as the main championship car as the No. 21 the additional entry car painted in retro livery as a tribute to the R90CP which competed in 1990 and scored Nissan highest finishes of 5th.

The 21 car with the retro livery tribute to the R90CP

The 21 car with the retro livery tribute to the R90CP

The team consists of nine drivers, 3 drivers for each car. Marc Gene was the first driver to be announced but was pulled back before the race.

Car No. 21 consists with Super GT champion and current NISMO driver Tsugio Matsuda, GT Academy first ever winner Lucas Ordonez and 2013 GT Academy winner Mark Shulzhitskiy.

Car No. 22 with LMP2 driver Harry Tincknell, NISMO Global Athlete Alex Buncombe and former Super GT Champion, GT1 World Champion, NISMO longtime driver Michael Krumm.

Car No. 23 with GT Academy winner Jann Mardenborough, former Marussia F1 driver Max Chilton and longtime endurance driver Olivier Pla.

Nissan Motorsport drivers: From Left to Right: Tsugio Matsuda, Lucas Ordonez, Max Chilton, Alex Buncombe, Jann Mardenborough, Olivier Pla, Harry Tincknell, Michael Krumm and Mark Shulzhitskiy

Nissan Motorsport drivers: From Left to Right: Tsugio Matsuda, Lucas Ordonez, Max Chilton, Alex Buncombe, Jann Mardenborough, Olivier Pla, Harry Tincknell, Michael Krumm and Mark Shulzhitskiy

The team coming to Le Mans with plans to make it to the end of the race. But in qualifying their weakness began to expose as they are way off the pace, even slower than the top LMP2 team KCMG. Car No. 22 was the best of the three but it was 20.1 seconds off the pace and 0.2 seconds off the nearest LMP1 car. Car No. 23 was 0.3 seconds behind while car No. 21 did even worse as the slowest of the LMP1 fields, slower than car 23 by 1.4 seconds and 0.4 seconds slower than the highest LMP2 qualifier by 0.4 seconds (it was later revealed that all 3 cars were running with a failing flywheel system). The dismal qualifying put all three cars to the back of the Prototype fields as they failed to reach the 110% time of their class.

The race came and problems even before the race could even begin as car No. 23 had to sit in the garage and miss the opening lap with a clutch problem before it got going again.

All three cars kept on racing until the sixth hour as Nissan suffered its first casualty with car No. 21 of Tsugio Matsuda stopped at Arnage and was unable to continue. Meanwhile car No. 22 also suffered a setback when it hit debris out on the racetrack and required a lengthy repair. With just hours to go Jann Mardenborough No. 23 car came into a halt at the Porsche Curves with smoke pouring out in front of the car as the gearbox failed. Car No. 22 was the only one left and crossed the finish line but was not classified which the car didn’t completed enough lap.

Overall car No.22 went the furthest with 242 laps. Car No.23 and No.21 both retired with 234 and 115 laps respectively.

The No.22 Nissan crossing the finish line

The No.22 Nissan crossing the finish line

After their Le Mans experience deemed a "success", Nissan withdrew from the championship as they continued to test the car with new aero configurations for circuits which is more emphasize on aerodynamics in COTA and NOLA Motorsport Park in late 2015 until the project was cancelled on December 22nd. 

The GT-R LM NISMO testing in late 2015 with new aero configurations

The GT-R LM NISMO testing in late 2015 with new aero configurations

It was later revealed that a new and re-designed 2016 spec GT-R LM was in development but due to parts coming in later than expected, the project was scrapped. 

The GT-R LM, although a good intention by Nissan to return to the big stage ultimately ended up in flames. It had all the possibility to be a true contender but unfortunately, that dream never finalized.