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An Introduction to Nissan’s 1997 Le Mans Contender – the R390 GT1

Submitted by on November 3, 2017

Nissan R390 GT1

Head back to the 1997 24 Hours of Le Mans to hang out with Nissan Motorsport and Tom Walkinshaw Racing while getting to know the Nissan R390 GT1.

Nissan’s 24 Hours of Le Mans heritage reaches back to 1986, when they entered two March-based cars – the R86V, based on a March 86G, and an R85V that would go on to 16th overall in the great race. They continued to challenge through the late ’80s with cars like the R90C that set pole position in 1990, but eventually took a break from the race following the 1990 event.

NISMO resumed the challenge in 1995, entering two Skyline GT-R LM cars in the GT1 class. One, driven by Hideo Fukuyama, Masahiko Kondo and Shunji Kasuya, would finish 10th overall in the ’95 race and they were consistent in 1996, with a 15th overall and 10th in class finish.

For 1997, Nissan partnered with Tom Walkinshaw Racing to build a new prototype that could kick it with the wild machines from Mercedes, Porsche and McLaren. The car they came up with was the R390 GT1, a carbon monocoque chassis with a carbon composite body and a further-developed version of the twin-turbo 3.5-litre V8 from the R89C, the VRH35L, under the hood. It inherited some of the good looks of the Jaguar XJR-15 thanks to the involvement of TWR, and it was quick.

The R390 GT1 debuted in the 1997 24 Hours of Le Mans and it proved its pace quickly, with Martin Brundle setting the fastest time in pre-qualifying and the #22 car driven by Riccardo Patrese, Eric van de Poele and Aguri Suzuki going on to qualify fourth for the main event.

What it hadn’t proved yet was its reliability, and in the race things went south, with all of the cars struggling to keep gearbox temperatures under control. Two would drop out prematurely, but the third, driven by Kazuyoshi Hoshino, Érik Comas and Masahiko Kageyama claimed a respectable 12th place overall.

Nissan returned in 1998 with four thoroughly-tested and further-developed cars. This time all four finished, with Aguri Suzuki, Kazuyoshi Hoshino and Masahiko Kageyama climbing the podium in third and the remainder all finishing in the top ten in 5th, 6th and 10th.

Go behind the scenes of the 1997 race with this clip, which introduces the R390 GT1 and features interviews with Tom Walkinshaw and Martin Brundle.

MORE: The Nissan R90CK – Widescreen Gallery

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