Nissan NISMO Didn't Win Le Mans, But They Will Make 2016 Awesome
After Ferrari left the field, Audi and Porsche have dominated Le Mans. This year was no different with all the smart money being laid on the two teams to once again hold the P1 class podium between them. Nissan, who hadn't been in Le Mans in years, let alone in the top-level P1 class, made their return this year and for race fans, it was an emotional mix of "underdog gotta do it!" and failure. Yet this thought that the NISMO team somehow "failed" because they didn't place is short-sighted. The team accomplished something remarkable just by finishing the race with one of their cars. And learned. A lot. In a short amount of time.
The NISMO team at Le Mans had only been running their cars for a few months. The team itself hadn't even been involved in the P1 class for a year when the cars entered the track and began their runs. In a grueling endurance race like the 24 Heurs, breakdowns and nitpicky problems are the norm. Especially for a new team with a new car that isn't based on anything else out on the circuit.
Just the difference between the qualifying rounds and the actual race showed how fast the NISMO team can make improvements and how quickly their drivers can adapt. One of the Nissan race team's greatest assets is that their drivers are not locked into one type of racing. They don't have Formula One, GT, Supercar, or other dedicated drivers. Instead, they have drivers that tend to run the gamut, competing in several different race types during a single season. NISMO loves trading drivers around to both its own and its factory-sponsored third-party teams. Even if it's just for one race. Often this comes with spectacular results. It also means that their drivers are adaptable and quickly learn new ways of racing.
The other difference here is that the GT-R LM P1 NISMO car was not fully operational when it hit the track last weekend. The team hadn't had time to perfect the hybrid system, so it was largely non-functional during the race. This was a large part of why the cars were so sluggish on corners. There was little or no hybrid boosting to the turns, leaving them almost entirely as front-wheel drive, which comes with massive understeer issues.
Despite that, though, we can see that the engine, which Nissan has supplied to other race teams for a long time, had zero issues. All of the mechanical problems that pulled GT-R LM cars off the track were transmission and chassis, not engine issues. The engine is often the most troublesome part of a Le Mans first-time entry, but not for Nissan.
Lastly, the NISMO team is very well funded. Nissan is not afraid to pour money into their race teams and it usually pays off with wins and trophies - and PR. The PR machine behind the Le Mans run for the NISMO team was big and, more than that, it was innovative. The Nissan NISMO team proved to be one of the most open, out there teams in terms of access and honesty on the field last weekend. That provides a lot of credibility and makes for loyal fans.
In the end, the NISMO team likely gathered a lot of information from the Le Mans 24 Hours this year and will return next year with a far more race-ready car, much more experienced drivers, and a team that is ready to adapt and overcome. And win. If Porsche and Audi haven't noticed that, it will be their own mistake. And it will mean they lose.