The Nissan R391 was a prototype racing car, the Nissan and its motorsport division Nismo built for the 24-hour race at Le Mans in 1999. It replaced the R390 GT1, which no longer corresponded to the Regulations for the series based class.
According to Nissan’s return to the sports car championships in 1995, the motor sports department Nismo slowly climbed up the ladder of classes and eventually reached the highest class Le Mans Prototype. Nismo began in 1995 with the Skyline GT-R and developed the 1997 R390 GT1, which was actually as close as possible to a prototype, but still had a street legal.
Due to the massive rule changes in the GT class in 1999, it was many large manufacturers no longer possible to build homologated special vehicles that looked like a prototype than a real GT. For example, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, Panoz, BMW and Audi were limited to the prototype class and build either car with open cockpit or those closed cockpit, which were really derivations of the previous GT cars. Nissan said that a separately developed Prototype would be superior to a more developed GT, opted for a car with an open cockpit.
Nissan turned to the UK-based company G-Force Technologies, who designed and built the R391. Nigel Stroud took care of the design. Also, Nissan entered into a partnership with a long-standing customer for used factory race cars, Courage Compétition, a. Part of the contract between the two was the delivery of the supercharged 3.5-liter V8 engine VRH35L (who had escaped from the R390 GT1) of courage for use in their own prototype, was advised to use the new R391 while Nissan in turn of Courage. Nissan also bought a Courage C52 chassis for their own racing team, if the mechanics of the new R391 difficulties should make after Le Mans was indeed the first race with the new car.
Nissan decided that the R391 should get a new version of the VH-machine which no longer had any turbocharger, as is still the VRH35L. Instead, there was a new naturally aspirated engine, the VRH50A. With its larger displacement of 5.0 liters, the engine overcame the loss of the turbocharger and still offered the advantages of the original VRH35L construction.
Nissan wanted the two R391 together with the Courage C52 (still using the older VRH35L engine) use the 24-hour race at Le Mans in 1999. At the official test runs for Le Mans in May, the R391 reached the tenth and the thirteenth best time and struck some cars from Mercedes-Benz, Audi and BMW, but could not do anything against their arch-rivals Toyota and Panoz.
In qualifying the Nissan were also fast; a car was twelfth. The second car, piloted by Eric van de Poele, had an accident in the first qualifying run, so that it could no longer be repaired. Van de Poele suffered a broken vertebra in the accident, but recovered it again. So Nissan had to start the race with only one R391.
During the race, the remaining R391 could work your way through the entire field up to fourth position, but after only 110 rounds had the car with an electrical problem on the engine quit. Nissan’s remaining car with Courage chassis and the older V8 engine was able to finish the race in a respectable eighth place. This was surpassed even by car from ‘Courage Compétition”, which – also equipped with the older Nissan V8 Turbo – Sixth overall, was eight laps from the Nissan factory car.
Later this year the R391 again used in a race, the 1000km of Fuji, which was signed by the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO), the organizers of the Le Mans race, advertised. The winner of this race should automatically get a starting place in the next 24-hour race at Le Mans. Although the race was mainly supplied by Japanese teams so that other big factory teams were missing, Nissan saw himself but the arch-rival Toyota compared to that its GT-One began, a car that had the beaten at Le Mans R391. Both teams named only one car, but Nissan had the upper hand; the R391 beat the GT-One for only one round, which earned great merits Nissan in the Japanese sports car scene.
Although Nissan automatically had a starting spot in the 24-hour race at Le Mans in 2000 with the victory in Fuji, the management decided that the motor sports program was not worth the high cost, especially because Nissan will be restructured under new head Carlos Ghosn should. As in the sports car competition since 1995, only a single victory could be won, it was decided, the R391 project to end in early 2000, so that Nissan only in JGTC was dedicated. Nissan was thus won the Le Mans starting grid.
Only in 2005 Nissan returned to the sports car racing scene back when she wanted to support the British sports car racing team rolling Centre Racing with a modified V6 turbo engine for the Le Mans Endurance Series in 2005 and the 24-hour race in the same year. But the machine is not proved successful and Nissan pulled quickly back out of the program back.
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