Nissan returned to sports car racing in 1995. Nismo (Nissan Motorsport) enjoyed some success with their Skyline GT-R LM in the GT1 class. However, loopholes in the GT regulations quickly had the Nismo cars outclassed, as racing cars were built that bore little resemblance to their GT1 class competitors - including the Porsche 911 GT1 and the Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR.
In order to compete in the LeMans GT1 Class, manufacturers were required to build at least one street-legal version of the racing car. Most manufacturers built the race car first and then made a road going version. Nissan, however, built the road car first. It was designed by Ian Callum at Tom Walkinshaw Racing (TWR) and dubbed the R390 GT1.
The car was built in Atsugi, Japan and its name followed the tradition started in the 1960s with Nissan's R380.
The Skyline GT-R LM had been powered by the durable and dependable RB26DETT inline six-cylinder engine. It was a capable engine but it did have its drawbacks. Instead, designers selected the engine from the Nissan R89C. The VRH35Z was a V8 engine with a 3.5-liter displacement and an aluminum block. It had a low center of gravity and a better ability to be used as a stressed member over the RB26. After modifications, the engine was dubbed VRH35L and in full racing tune, offered nearly 650 horsepower at 6,800 RPM. The road going version received a detuned version of the engine, rated at around 550 horsepower.
Tony Southgate from TWR, and Mr. Yutaka Hagiwara of Nismo designed the mechanical and aerodynamic components. The design was tested and perfected using scale model wind-tunnel testing in England and full-size testing at Nissan Technical Center in Atsugi, Japan.
Only one road legal R390 was built. The three racing versions were completed in time for the 1997 24 Hours of LeMans, and all three failed scrutineering. Further modifications were required in order to be allowed to race. The changes subsequently led to overheating problems for the gearbox, and early retirement.
All three cars were finished in black and red livery. Martin Brundle took pole position in pre-qualifying with a time of 3.43.14. At the race itself, car number #22 qualified in 4th on the grid and 2nd in class behind a Porsche 911 GT1. Car number 21 qualified in 12th and car number 23 was 21st. During the race, car number 21 and 22 were withdrawn due to mechanical failure. The third R390 survived the race, but that was after receiving two complete gearbox changes. It finished 12th overall and 5th in class.
Nissan return in 1998 with four cars. Many modifications had been made over the year, including more downforce from a longer rear tail, a new rear diffuser, and a new rear wing placement for reduced drag. All four cars finished, taking 3rd, 5th, 6th and 10th overall.
After the 1998 24 Hours of LeMans, new rules were implemented for the GT classes, making the R390 GT1 ineligible to compete.
During the two year R390 GT1 race program, a total of eight examples were built. Just one R390 road car prototype was built.
by Daniel Vaughan | Feb 2019
1998 Nissan R390 GT1
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