On May 31, an official test was conducted at the Circuit de la Sarthe in Le Mans, France before the 3rd round of the WEC 24 Hours of Le Mans race. Nissan, which was absent at the round 2 of the WEC, was bound to participate in the race with three units of GT-R LM Nismo and thus made preparations before it started.
The finals for this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans will be held on June 13 to 14, 2015. It is the 3rd round of the World Endurance Championship (WEC), and as we all know, the value of this race is far greater than any other series title. The official location test, which was set two weeks before the actual race, is a racing tradition which started in 1923, and it is an important test driving venue for contestants aiming for the victory.
Nissan, which will join the LMP1, the highest class which all other contenders aim to win, was absent at the 2nd round of the WEC, which they expected to be their first participation in the race but then they continued the test in their United States headquarters. It was expected that their activities in this official Le Mans test were noticed.
The GT-R LM Nismo was designed with a unique car concept in the FF layout of the LMP1 class. While they generally focused on the midship section, as an FF car, they recognized the importance of a predominant aerodynamic surface. They aimed to show the difference through this and take advantage of it; but just by looking at the time sheet in this official test, they haven’t reached a certain level to be on a par with the Audi, Porsche and Toyota for now.
The test race was conducted within two sessions in four hours, and as for Nissan’s best time in the first session, #23 got 3.23 minutes and ranked 16th place in its entire class. On top 1 is the #18 Porsche unit with 3 minutes, 21 seconds and 945 milliseconds, while #23’s time is first among the four LMP2 class cars. (Incidentally, majority of the LMP2 class cars are equipped with Nissan engines.) In the second session, the #22 got 3 minutes, 50 seconds and 713 milliseconds, Nissan’s best time, and ranked 27 overall. The Porsche #17 topped the second session with 3 minutes 21 seconds and 61 milliseconds.
But it was just a test race. It also rained, so we really couldn’t evaluate the race with just the best time. Ben Bowlby, who led Nissan’s LMP1 project, said the following.
“We were not able to hit the top today. We have been devoting ourselves to learning more and gathering more data as preparation for the first battle in the Le Mans race. Participating with our innovative machines, we have been preparing for a huge mound of challenges. We finished our first race here, brought back the three units safely in the garage, and we gathered ample data from the engineers’ expertise.”
Bowlby, who looked satisfied with the test results, seemed to have a positive response to it. He also commented, “The time we achieved under wet condition was competitive, and during the race in the morning, we were able to mark 2 top points for the comprehensive best time.”
Nissan’s work system for the Le Mans racing started since 1999. This FF layout cars are talked about by many; we fully anticipate its progress over a short period, from its official inspection on Sunday up to the actual race week. Although hitting the top this year is difficult, they are positively hoping to gather more useful data about racing (speed) in order to achieve their first championship in their aspired race Le Mans next year and so on.
The Nissan Camp also changed drivers for the Le Mans race while they were absent in the 2nd round of WEC. Marc GenÃ© has become the adviser. The drivers for #23 are O. Pla, J. Mardenborough & Max Chilton; H. Tincknell, M. Krumm & A. Buncombe for #22. Tsugio Matsuda, M. Shulzhitskiy & L. Ordonez will be the drivers for the #21, which was designed based on the Nissan R90CK, the car that gave Japan it’s first pole position in 1990. (Matsuda, Chilton and Buncombe drove the Nissan engine-equipped LMP3 class cars during the official test, and these drivers participating in this race for the first time were obliged to achieve a 10-lap run.)
Among Audi, Porsche and Toyota, the German representatives were at the top during this test based on the time sheet. Audi and Porsche made it to top 6 on the second session, and the two entries of Toyota got the ranks 7 and 8. The speed in the first lap does not directly point out the race status for the finals; nevertheless, it is one of the anticipated parts of the competition.
Kazuki Nakajima, who made a comeback at the cockpit of the #1 Toyota TS040 Hybrid in this test, gave a favorable response himself, “I feel really great. My injury is completely healed so there is no problem at all. It’s my first time to drive again after the accident, but I am satisfied that I was able to drive the car just like before.” Also, he commented, “In the afternoon, when the race was completely dry, I was able to feel the same feeling when I acquired the pole position last year.” For him and for Toyota, their best rally for this race from the first round to the finals is one of their big targets for this year as well.
The finals for the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans race will be held on June 13 to 14.
(Translated by Claire Marie Sausora)