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#HeroComesHome - Nissan's Insane Return to Prototypes

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Alien spaceships that want to eat you.  Sleek spaceframe rockets blowing past everyone.  Godzillas feasting on Japan's countryside.  And now, a long-nosed, low-drag missile pointed straight at the middle of France.

Nissan's sports car history is diverse, legendary, and more importantly, critical to the brand's survival in the United States.  When the GTP ZX-Turbo debuted in IMSA in the mid-1980s, it was a clear effort to establish the name of "Nissan" in the country just a few years after switching from Datsun.  What started as a marketing exercise became a lesson in domination.  Developed by Electramotive Engineering (later renamed NPTI - or Nissan Performance Technology Inc.) from a Lola chassis, the ZX-T ran roughshod over the GTP division, claiming wins and championships with ease.

But the ZX-T was a prototype, and only had a tenuous relationship with the street legal product.  Enter the monstrous 300ZX GTS, a silhouette car that battled Mustangs, Corvettes, Audis, and Oldsmobiles on the same circuits, often at the same time, as its prototype brother.  The result was the same - victories and championships came easy.   And this time around, it gave the owner of a stock 300ZX the pride of knowing that some of that DNA was in his own daily driver.

Meanwhile, Nissan was also busy re-establishing sports car racing in their homeland.  After GTP and the similar Group C collapsed in the early 1990s, Japan was looking to hit the reset button on their domestic racing series.  The result was the Japan GT Championship.  The early fields were an odd mix of GT2 Porsches and BMWs, a grandfathered Porsche 962C, even a Ferrari F40 or two.  But the true star was a massive grand tourer of the old tradition, turned into a road hugging beast with gobs of power, all done up in a striking blue livery.  That car was the now-iconic Calsonic R32 Skyline GT-R, and it captured the Japanese imagination like few before it.  It was soon joined by other GT-Rs, which then begot Toyota Supras and Honda NSXs.  Within a few years, the JGTC was a big money, high profile battlefield for JDM manufacturers, and the Japanese public ate it up.  All of which happened pretty well isolated from the rest of the world, however.  No one outside of Japan knew anything of Nissan's monstrous Skyline-based supercars.

Except, in 1997, Sony released a game for their PlayStation console which you might have heard of - Gran Turismo. The Skyline played a starring role in it, and a couple of years later Gran Turismo 2 featured the full JGTC field.  Both games raised the GT-R's profile in the States and it became almost mythical - Nissan would never import it, so it's unattainability made it even more desirable.

The Japanese bubble burst shortly thereafter, and Nissan made the decision to cut the GT-R from their lineup, at least in it's Skyline trim level form.  A few years later, Nissan began showing concepts and announced that it would come back as it's own model.  Except, this time, owing to the renown of the nameplate internationally thanks to the game, it would be made available just about everywhere, including the USA.

Which brings us to today.  The GT-R is now established as Nissan's halo car.  There's a GT3 version that runs in Europe and should be making inroads in the United States soon.  There's a Super GT version that continues to dominate Japan today.  But Nissan has their sights set higher, and in sports car racing, nothing is more important than the 24 Hours of Le Mans.  And so the spirit of the monster ZX-T and the legacy of those Skylines is merging to create a whole new type of beast.

I could spend a lot of space here explaining the technical details of why the Nissan Nismo GT-R LM is the most insane race car of the last 20 or so years, but I'll leave that to Mulsanne Mike and Marshall Pruett.  They're far smarter than I am.  Just know that everything Nissan has learned from their exploratory DeltaWing and ZEOD excursions has been applied to this car to make it as low drag as it can possibly be, and in doing so the book on what a Le Mans Prototype could be has been totally rewritten.  And yet, as it revolutionizes, it does so with nods to the past.  Just like the ZX-T, it's been primarily developed in America.  And it's a GT-R, just like the car Nissan captivated a country, and later the world, with.

Will a front engine, front wheel drive prototype really work at Le Mans?  No one knows yet.  But Nissan, in a sense, has already won.  No other race car for more than a decade has garnered attention and curiosity like this machine, and it's guaranteed that the company is loving it.  Sports car racing, like it has for almost 30 years, boosts Nissan once more.