Nissan LMP1: Can They Really be The Bad Boys?

A few days ago Nissan took over London’s trendiest district to unveil the worst-kept secret in sports car racing: a full on, two car, factory LMP1 entry for Le Mans and the World Endurance Championship. But this wasn’t just another launch; the Japanese giant was out to prove that it means business.

NISSAN GT-R LMP1 small

There was a bar, leather wingback chairs and a DJ spinning thumping electro tunes; it certainly wasn’t anything we’d seen in the WEC before. Various heads of Nissan were roaming around, beers in hands, chatting amiably to the gathered guests and press.

Outside there was Sir Chris Hoy’s GT-R GT3, the bonkers ZEOD RC and a big wooden crate that sported glowing claw slashes and made loud growling noises every now and then. The message was clear, even to the people wandering past the big, taloned, Nissan-red footprints outside the old Shoreditch brewery: they’re here to Eat, Sleep, Race and Repeat, monster style.

When the lights dimmed inside Nissan Executive V-P Andy Palmer made a speech that wouldn’t have been out of place over the wireless in 1939: “When we go racing, we do so differently. We won’t be turning up in a vehicle which is a basically another hybrid that looks like another Porsche, Audi or Toyota - they all look the same to me - our intention is to do something that is a little bit different.”

The difference, apparently, should be immediately obvious. The car wasn’t shown and we shouldn’t expect that until they go testing in October, but with the GT-R badge involved it’s a safe bet that there’ll be a showing from the round rear lights and cut out front grille that the road, GT3 and Super GT versions all feature.

Palmer bombarded the audience with promises of technical innovation. He repeatedly pointed out that the WEC allows for different cars to take different directions and compete on the same piece of tarmac; if you thought that the current three had covered all of the technological bases, he implied, you need to guess again.

The rhetoric continued on: “Audi, Porsche, Toyota: we’re coming to rain on your parade and spoil your party”. In that action of lumping together three of the most legendary marques in sports car racing, Palmer showed just how little Nissan care about the establishment. He carries on, an intense and slightly mad glare in his eyes: “To be frank, what we want to be is a bad boy”. That’s not something you’d ever hear coming out of Germany.

No, Germany would’ve given us a rigid press conference in a gleaming new building, or men with nametags slowly shuffling around a grouping of round tables in a room full of heritage. Everything about Nissan’s effort pointed towards a different attitude towards going prototype racing, far removed from the quiet efficiency and tight PR of the established manufacturers.

It was exactly what Nissan needed to do to stand out. With their involvement we’re now lucky enough to have four competitors lining up for the WEC in 2015, so a prominent team name and a white prototype just isn’t going to cut it in the heat of battle any more. In the act of making it us vs. them, the clear aggression exhibited by the speeches, the videos and the big wooden crate, Nissan were showing the world that they think they can change the status quo.

But could they be getting slightly ahead of themselves? They’ve not even unveiled the car yet and they’re already issuing challenges: the quip about not being there ‘for a nice marketing sideshow’ could be seen as a dig at Audi’s massive promotional machine, and the promise that their car will have ‘DNA rooted in Japan’ is a clear wink at Toyota being based in Cologne.

It’s ballsy stuff, but it sets them up for a massive fall if they fail to deliver. And as for the claim that they want to go to Le Mans and win against the might and money of Audi, Toyota and Porsche within two years? We shouldn’t be so cynical as to write it off completely, but it does bear the whiff of the ‘cunning plan’ about it.

Whether or not Nissan are competitive straight away, and whether or not they bring us the revolution that they’ve promised, the main news is this: come next year we’ll have eight cars from four different global superpowers at the front of the grid in the WEC and at Le Mans. No matter how they spin it, that’s an exciting prospect for any motor sport fan.

Jamie Snelling is a freelance motor sport journalist and ten-time Speed Chills veteran.