After an intensive testing and development program in the U.S., Nissan’s GT-R LM NISMO will make its European on-track debut at Le Mans this weekend, gearing up for its ambitious three-car LMP1 program in the 24-hour race next month.
It’s been a busy month for the Japanese manufacturer, which wrapped up testing in Kentucky three weeks ago prior to setting up shop at its European base in Silverstone and building the third car from scratch.
Coupled with the arrival of additional personnel for the effort and a tight timeframe heading into Sunday’s Le Mans Test Day, there’s been and will be a number of sleepless nights ahead for the team, says Nissan’s Darren Cox.
“It’s been a huge amount of work, as you could imagine,” Cox told Sportscar365. “What we have to remember is that Porsche had nine to 12 months, maybe more, to prep their Le Mans program and they only brought two cars [in their first year].
“Three cars is a stretch but you might as well stretch in your first year than your second year. It was a strategic decision to take three cars and I think it was the right thing to do.”
All three of the radical front-engined, front-wheel drive prototypes are now en route to France, having opted to forgo plans of a shakedown at Silverstone to instead focus on further prep work.
Cox said they have additional shakedown options at Le Mans later this week, including at a local airport, prior to the crucial single-day test on Sunday.
While it’s arguably been a challenging start to the GT-R LM NISMO program, marred by delays and teething issues with its hybrid system, Cox said they’re focused on the big picture, despite the obvious challenges of being in the spotlight.
“This is not easy,” he said. “We’re more than likely to make mistakes between now and the start of the race.
“People will point the finger [at us] but Audi will make mistakes, Toyota will make mistakes and Porsche will too. I just think we’ll be more under the microscope.
“That’s fine. We’ve decided to be open with the fans and the media on how we’re approaching this and that’s got a downside.
“But as someone on our team keeps saying, it’s all in the recovery. You’ll always get knocked down in your first year. It’s how you recover from that issue.”
Nissan has set realistic expectations for Sunday, although they’re already equipped with a detailed plan of attack.
“We’ve literally got a lap-by-lap plan and we will stick to it,” Cox said. “We don’t care how fast everyone else is going. We’re not chasing a time.
“We haven’t got super soft or soft tires. We’ve got tires that will last stints. We’ve got a huge amount of work to get through in terms of setup.
“Porsche has over 60 hours of experience at Le Mans. We’ve got zero, effectively, with these cars. We’ve got a huge amount of things to try.”
Cox said they have a checklist of performance-related elements to get through, with each of the cars set to run on different programs.
“Obviously we’ve got to go through tire wear and durability programs on all of the compounds, which takes some times,” he said.
“We’ve got some aerodynamic options and we have to look where we are in terms of fuel consumption.
“Those are the three key elements for us, and to a certain extent brakes.”
One of the strategic decisions taken has been to get its three Le Mans rookies Tsugio Matsuda, Alex Buncombe and Max Chilton their mandatory ten laps in one of the Team LNT-entered Ginetta-Juno LMP3 cars.
All three drivers are also expected to get seat time in the LMP1 cars once qualification requirement is met.
Cox stressed that no risks will be taken during the test day, with the goal to have all three of the LMP1 cars in one piece by Sunday evening.
“We’ve got a lot of things to learn and the worst thing we could do is send one of our blokes out and do a banzai lap because it will end up with the car in the fence,” he said. “And if we’ve got a car in the fence, we’re in big trouble.
“The drivers will be under strict instruction to be off the curbs, away from GT cars and ignore what everyone else is doing around us. Don’t expect fireworks from us.
“If we can get three cars to the end of the day, knowing what our tire wear is like, knowing our fuel consumption and knowing what direction we can go with setup, then we’ve done a good job.”