Less than a year after it was revealed in a Super Bowl ad, the Nissan GT-R LM NISMO hybrid race car is dead. While it captured attention like no racer in recent memory, Nissan’s radical design just couldn’t cut it on the track.
Designed to take on hybrid prototypes from Audi, Porsche, and Toyota at the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans, the GT-R LM NISMO’s party piece was an unusual front-engine, front-wheel drive configuration. But the car’s unique nature was only partially intentional: Nissan wanted to make the GT-R LM all-wheel drive, but issues with a supplier nixed that idea.
Putting the engine in the front, rather than in the middle, like the competition, was always the plan, though. It allowed for massive tunnels to be placed on either side of the engine and cockpit, to channel air around the car. Ben Bowlby, who also designed the bonkers DeltaWing, thought this would give the GT-R LM NISMO a decisive advantage. And in its original all-wheel drive configuration, the Nissan was supposed to have much more power than its competitors.
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But Nissan learned that experiments sometimes fail. The GT-R LM NISMO missed the early rounds of the 2015 World Endurance Championship, denying the Nissan team valuable practice time for the big race at Le Mans. At Le Mans itself, the GT-R LM was pitifully slow compared to its rivals. While few race teams expect to win their first time out, the poor performance cast serious doubt on the car’s viability.
Sometimes it takes a bit of tweaking for a design to live up to its full potential, but Nissan has apparently decided to cut its losses. It says it will not participate in top-tier endurance racing in 2016, although it will supply engines to lower-level privateer teams. Nissan GT-R GT3 racers based on production models will also continue to race in various series around the world.
Race drivers are an impressive breed, but much of the appeal of racing comes from the exotic nature of the machines they take to the track in. With the GT-R LM NISMO, Nissan delivered something truly exotic, but it just wasn’t a winner.