Nissan's motorsports arm Nismo has turned racecar convention on its head with the new GT-R LM Nismo, which will compete this year in the FIA's top-tier LM P1 category.
Why is it so unusual? Because in a field dominated by mid-engined, rear-drive or all-wheel drive prototypes, the GT-R LM will be the only front-engined, front-wheel drive car on the grid.
Okay so technically it's mid-engined, but the engine still sits ahead of the driver, pushing the cockpit rearward and giving the GT-R LM an awkwardly upright silhouette.
It looks odd and is radically different to the GT-R road car, but Nismo promises that the concept will work.
But with all of the power from its 3.0 litre twin-turbo V6 and electric assistance motor heading solely to the front wheels, the GT-R LM goes against established principles about performance car design.
With the front tyres tasked with turning, stopping AND accelerating the car, those two hoops of rubber will be under enormous duress during the gruelling Le Mans 24-hour.
However Nismo says the weight of the engine and the front-biased aero will provide enough downforce to keep front-end grip high.
The front tyres themselves are also massive, measuring 14 inches across the tread while the rears are just 9 inches wide.
"This is due to the way that mass is distributed in the car," said Ben Bowlby, Nissan’s LM P1 Team Principal and Technical Director.
"We have moved the weight bias forwards to give us traction for the front-engined, front-wheel drive. We’ve also moved the aero forwards so we’ve moved the capacity of the tyres forward to match the weight distribution.
"So the aero centre of pressure, the mass centre of gravity and the tyre capacity are all in harmony and that means we have bigger tyres at the front than the rear.”
The GT-R LM Nismo will also take advantage of the Le Mans rulebook, which favours efficient engines and high-output hybrid systems.
Power output is a secret, but the GT-R LM Nismo's VRX 30A engine is, in Bowlby's own words, "relatively low powered".
Instead, Nismo's strategy will be to reduce fuel use and instead rely on a more powerful electric drive and energy recovery system to provide the bulk of acceleration.
“The LM P1 regulations for manufacturers have four hybrid powertrain options, defined by how much hybrid energy is released from the ERS per lap of Le Mans," Bowlby explained.
"You can go in the 2 megajoule class where you can deploy up to 2MJ of energy during one lap of Le Mans and also use quite a lot of fuel.
“You can go in the 4MJ class and get a little less fuel, the 6MJ class with less still and then there’s the 8MJ class where you get the least fuel of all but the most recovered energy for deployment.
"There’s no limit on how powerful the system is [in the 8MJ class], just how much energy is used so you can either have an awful lot of power for a very short time or a small amount of power for a very long time."
But the fundamental question remains: WHY front-wheel drive? There are good reasons why the rest of the field sticks with mid-engined, rear-drive layouts, so to go for an FWD configuration must only be worthwhile if it confers an as-yet unknown advantage.
That advantage may come from the GT-R LM's packaging, which leaves plenty of space in the back of the car for a large venturi tunnel.
The short rear suspension arms indicate this might be the case, as there's no messy underpinnings to get in the way of underbody aero.
We're sure we'll find out more when the GT-R LM Nismo makes its debut at Silverstone on April 12 in the first LM P1 race of the season. If it performs well, that's all the proof we'll need that Nismo's audacious FWD racecar concept works.
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