It’s been a long-standing opinion of mine that a front engine layout can potentially work better for Prototype racing.
A front engine car can easily be packaged into a body shape like an upsidedown wing with a huge rear diffuser with no engine or transaxle to get in the way of the aerodynamics. The cars aerodynamic center of pressure can easily be in the back of the center of gravity to give the car inherit stability as well.
So when rumors surfaced about Nissan developing a Ben Bowlby (the father of the Deltawing prototype) designed front engine hybrid AWD prototype for LeMans I was ecstatic. I was also cautious in my enthusiasm because this would be a car pushing the edge of technology and I always feel that this isn’t a good way to win races. I also felt that Nissan’s Ghosn era management would be too stingy with funding and push too hard for timing for this project to be developed properly. Turns out I was right on all counts.
The car was radical, A 3-liter twin turbo V-6 was developed by Cosworth and Supplemented by a Torotrak KERS system powered the racer. The IC engine drove the front wheels and the KERS system drove both the front and rear wheels through a bespoke Xtrac transmission/center diff arrangement. The rear wheels were powered with offset driveshafts and hub mounted epicyclic transmissions in a radical bespoke arrangement designed so driveshafts would not compromise the cars underbody aero with its huge diffuser and flow through bodywork.
The car was plagued with development problems from the start. The powertrain didn’t fit in the carbon tub properly and the car failed FIA crash testing. There was little time allocated for testing and early tests went poorly. Nissan management pushed for the car to make the race. The car was doomed to do awfully in LeMans like it was being set up to fail.
Nissan entered a 3 car team in the 2015 running of LeMans. Due to development problems, the KERS system was not working and the cars ran only in FWD mode with overstressed brakes that were designed for the energy absorption of KERS. With the technical issues and rushed development, the cars were 20 a lap seconds off the pace. During the race, two cars broke early and one car sort of finished in dead last, the car spent so much time in the pits repairing damage from striking debris.
With these humiliating results, Nissan pulled the plug on what was supposed to be a 2-year minimum program. Poor Ben Bowlby, another one of his radical ideas dead due to inadequate funding and development. I myself would like to see a Prototype developed using this concept but as an electric hybrid with electric pancake motors in the rear hubs. This would simplify things and package better as well as probably perform better.
Anyway, the Nissan Prototype was a lot more successful as a cool Super Bowl commercial. The car was showcased in what I think is the best car commercial ever. It tugged on my own heartstrings because I have always and still do regret the time racing and business travel has taken away from my own daughter and myself having grown up with a largely emotionally absent Dad.
Here is the commercial if you don’t remember it.
Here is a cool mini-documentary on the making of the commercial.
Anyway, I hope someone still tries to build the super aero, front engine AWD hybrid prototype, I think it would kick ass! I would love to work as an engineer for the team that develops and fields it.