Over the past couple of years, Nissan has perplexed spectators at the 24 Hours of Le Mans with its DeltaWing and ZEOD-RC experimental racers. These cars were entered as the non-competitive “Garage 56″ entry, but this year Nissan isn’t messing around. Endurance racing faced a pivotal year in 2012. The FIA and the ACO had just come together to form the new World Endurance Championship when Peugeot announced it was shuttering its team, leaving only one manufacturer to contest the top LMP1 class of the nascent series. Fortunately Toyota was able to advance its program to join Audi in the WEC and at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Two seasons laterPorsche joined the fight, and now Nissan has formally announced its return to Le Mans as well.Revealed in Nissan’s With Dad spot during the Super Bowl, the Japanese automaker is set to join the grid with the innovative GT-R LM Nismo you see here. It’s a hybrid just like the challengers from Audi, Porsche and Toyota, but instead of a mid-engine/rear-drive setup, Nissan’s oddball challenger places its engine in the front, driving the front wheels.
The 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V6 is mated to a five-speed sequential gearbox and produces upwards of 550 horsepower on its own, but is mated to an electric Energy Recovery System that kicks in over 700 additional horses for a combined hybrid output exceeding 1,250 hp. That could make Nissan’s the most powerful LMP1 on the grid, while still complying with the fuel flow limits outlined in the rulebook that gives participating constructors the latitude to toy with different configurations.Both power-train components are mounted under the long nose of the oddly styled prototype, behind the canopy of the rearward cockpit that may give it a similar profile to the DeltaWing prototype and subsequent ZEOD RC. But the unconventional GT-R LM Nismo is also innovative in its own way. The front-drive configuration means that the Nissan prototype actually has wider tires up front than in the back, and also allowed for a drastically different approach to aerodynamics.Instead of testing it out at a handful of events in its first season, with the GT-R LM, Nissan will contest the full 2015 FIA World Endurance Championship, starting with the 6 Hours of Silverstone in April and including the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June.
There Nissan will mark its return after a 16-year absence from the top class, but don’t think that the Japanese automaker has been out of it altogether in the intervening years: aside from fielding GT-Rs in the GT categories, it’s powered a disproportionate number of the LMP2 cars on the grid, will be powering the new LMP3 cars, and has run (or at least backed) the Garage 56 entries for innovative technologies the past two years. If and when it actually wins, though, it would be the first time (despite Toyota’s best efforts) that a Japanese manufacturer would take top honors at Le Mans sinceMazda won with the 787B in 1991.Nissan has yet to announce its full driver lineup, but it has retained its lead driver in Marc Gené, the longtime Ferrari factory test driver who has a wealth of experience at the pinnacle of endurance prototype racing, winning at Spa with Audi and Le Mans with Peugeot in 2009.