Front-wheel drive has its benefits, but it’s usually scoffed at by performance purists, so it caught many people by surprise that Nissan’s entry into this year’s World Endurance Championship would be rocking a front-engine, front-wheel drive layout. If rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive is preferred by LMP1 heavy hitters like Audi and Toyota, why take them head-on with a supposedly weaker format? A new video posted by the team itself explains how their chosen layout isn’t a crutch, but an advantage.
First off, the packaging of the car, given its long front end, allows the team to maximize the surface area’s downforce. The more pressure, the more the car adheres to the road at speed through bends. Nissan’s racer is also shaped to benefit from the long straights at Le Mans’ Circuit de la Sarthe.
Speed and performance are just one part of the bigger picture when it comes to endurance racing. Having the fastest car doesn’t make much difference if it has to refuel every 10 minutes. The hope is that the font-wheel drive layout will be as efficient in racing as it is in normal, everyday road-going cars.
One of the great issues that FWD cars face when it comes to performance is understeer, since the front wheels are trying to both turn the car and accelerate it at the same time. You would think that this would be a big built-in obstacle to performance racers, and they admit it’s a factor. Nismo sees it as a challenge they have to overcome using traction control strategies in combination with the car’s aerodynamics.
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Will this result in a true advantage, though? There’s a lot of give and take in making something this different work. But that is what prototypes, and the endurance series itself, are all about: taking what hasn’t been done before, and putting it to the test at Le Mans.
It worked for hybrids, it worked for turbo-diesel, and it may even work for front-wheel drive.