Unless you’re hardcore into endurance racing, the chances are you haven’t heard of LMP3. It’s a fairly simple concept to understand: it’s intended to give more inexperienced drivers their first taste of prototype endurance racing before being chunked into the deep end of LMP2 or LMP1.
But here’s the thing: an LMP3 car doesn’t sound anything like its big brothers. Each LMP2 car uses a flat-plane V8 Gibson racing engine, while the LMP1 field features V6s turbos and more flat-plane V8s, and none of the cars in either category sound particularly interesting. So imagine my surprise at the 24 Hours of Le Mans when the Road To Le Mans LMP3 support race started, when a load of rumbly V8s came thundering by. Being in the not a hardcore endurance racing fan category referred to earlier, I’d not heard these beasts before. And they sound like straight-piped muscle cars.
There’s a good reason for this: the control engine in LMP3 isn’t some highly-strung, purpose-built race unit. Nope, it’s a Nissan V8, and is pretty much the same as the engine you can find in an Infiniti QX70. When LMP3 was first announced then-Nissan motorsport boss described it as a “warmed-up road car engine.”
This particular Nismo-produced version of the VK50VE still has a cross-plane crankshaft (although Nissan has used a flat-plane VK engine for the Super GT-spec GT-R before), and caps out at a modest 6800rpm. It produces about 420bhp (the Gibson LMP2 engines make 600bhp, for comparison), which is more than enough in a 900kg car. Each engine can cover over 6000 miles between rebuilds.
At this point we’d love to say that the gearbox is something similarly down-to-earth like a six-speed manual, but no: it’s a six-speed sequential transmission from X-Trac. The cars don’t have traction control or ABS, though.
There are six manufacturers from which teams can source chassis, and the rules stipulate that the whole shebang cannot cost more than €206,000. Considering the Audi R8 LMS GT3 was €359,000 when it launched, that’s actually rather good value. It’s no wonder the formula is doing well.
It is a shame that the Le Mans prototypes that race in the famous 24 Hour event itself don’t sound quite as good, but don’t worry: the likes of the Porsche 911 RSR and the Corvette in the GTE class more than make up for that…