Nissan LMP – Bah Humbug

The Nissan LMP at the Sebring test in 2015. [Photo by Eddie LePine]

The Nissan LMP at the Sebring test in 2015. [Photo by Eddie LePine]

By Jack Webster & Eddie LePine

Auto racing is either in a company’s DNA or it isn’t. As evidenced by Nissan suddenly pulling the plug on their FIA-WEC LMP1 program 3 days before Christmas and firing 40 plus dedicated and loyal employees in their Indianapolis shop (via email of all things), racing is certainly not in their DNA.

Driver Marc Gene with the Nissan LMP at the Sebring test in 2015.  [Photo by Eddie LePine]

Driver Marc Gene with the Nissan LMP at the Sebring test in 2015. [Photo by Eddie LePine]

As evidenced by the manner in which Nissan dismissed their crew, corporate bean counters were in charge of the program from the beginning and so it was doomed from the start. You can’t race at the top level of motorsport unless you make the commitment, as a company, to put 100% effort into the project. Nissan tried to race at the top level of motorsport on the cheap with an ill-conceived science project as their weapon of choice.

You cannot just decide to go racing against heavyweights like Porsche, Audi and Toyota and expect your program to be successful because you claim it will be. You certainly cannot expect to compete and win at the highest level of motorsport by just saying you are going to do so. You have to have the commitment, the desire, and most importantly you have to have racing blood flowing through your veins.

Obviously, Nissan doesn’t.

One only has to look back in history to see what commitment, desire and racing DNA can mean to a company.

Porsche in 1969 made the decision to compete at the top level of motorsport, with a new prototype. After years of success with small cars and class victories, they decided to go for the top rung of the ladder – overall victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Their weapon to complete their mission? The Porsche 917. Initially, the car was a piece of crap (as related by numerous drivers who were involved in the initial testing and racing of the car). It was powerful, but almost undriveable. It wandered around on the straights, wouldn’t turn in properly in the corners, wouldn’t do much of anything right.

Drivers were terrified of the car, but continued to test and race it as Porsche worked on fixing the problems. It would have been easy for Porsche to have just pulled the plug and gone back to what they had done so well in the past – winning races and championships in the lower classes of competition.

But Porsche didn’t give up. Porsche wanted to compete at the top level of motorsport. Porsche had racing and winning in their DNA.

That is why the Nissan program was doomed at its birth. Racing is not their heritage, not their passion, not their LIFE. We spoke to several top endurance racing drivers when the Nissan program was announced, and to a man they said essentially the same thing: Nissan doesn’t have a chance because they have not made a total commitment to the program.

So perhaps the lesson here it that there is a big difference between talking a good game and actually making a 100% commitment to winning and then doing what is necessary to achieve that goal.

As evidenced by Porsche’s total commitment to the Porsche 917 back in 1969 and the results that legendary car went on to achieve, racing is part of Porsche’s DNA. Always has been, always will be.

Porsche’s success on the world stage has continued throughout the years, from the 917 on to the 935, 936, 956, 962 and most recently with the Porsche 919 Hybrid, which just won the 2015 World Championship in the FIA-WEC. 17 overall Le Mans victories later, that original 100% commitment to the Porsche 917 when it looked to be a failure is proof positive that racing is in Porsche’s blood.

Racing is either in your DNA or it isn’t. Perhaps Nissan should stick to what they seem to do best – making generic street cars for the masses, for they certainly are not ready for to top rung of motorsport. Perhaps they never will be.

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