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  • 24 hours of Le Mans in 1989 & 1990

  • Time Capsule car: Car preserved untouched after its last race at the Fuji 500 km in 1991

  • Direct from the Nissan Heritage Collection in Japan
















Chassis No.







850 hp @ 7,200 rpm




900 kg

The Nissan Group C R90CP and R90CK are a testament to a mythical period in endurance racing, when manufacturers competed against each other and committed considerable financial, technical and human resources. These prototypes benefited from the best technologies of the time with the widespread use of carbon for the construction of the chassis, bodywork and brakes. These cars were developed at the turn of the 1980s and 1990s, and symbolise the apogee of Group C. Ascott Collection owns two rare examples, preserved by Nissan in the Nissan Heritage Collection for 30 years. 

Le Mans 1989, the philosophical break

It was in 1986 that Nissan entered the 24 Hours of Le Mans for the very first time, following in the footsteps of Toyota (seen as early as 1985) and Mazda, already present as an engine manufacturer and increasingly involved from 1983 via the Mazdaspeed structure. Like the other manufacturers from the land of the rising sun, Nissan wanted to become the first Japanese manufacturer to shine in Sarthe. For this, the brand developed ever crazier prototypes, with the R90C as the culmination of the line.

Since 1986 and commitments with two official cars for each edition (two Nissan R85V in 1986, two Nissan March R87E in 1987 then two Nissan R88C in 1988), the Japanese manufacturer decided to accelerate the effort in 1989. For this, the Nismo team entered three new R89Cs. First seen at Dijon a month earlier, the new cars represented a fundamental break with previous entries. It was no longer March that was responsible for the chassis, but Lola. This change was largely dictated by the results in the US, where the English chassis manufacturer was responsible for the GTP programme (the T810 chassis became Nissan GTP ZX-Turbo). Lola Cars was the new partner for Nissan with Eric Broadley in charge of the design. 

With a composite body, a very aerodynamic line and rounded shapes, the R89Cs were looking for the ground effect with many elements contributing to reach a high top speed. One could notice the side air intakes used for brake cooling, the central flap used to send air towards the radiator. In front of the windscreen, air intakes sent air to two tunnels to glue the car to the ground. 

Mechanically, the 3.5 litre V8 engine was used, combined with two IHI turbochargers to produce 800 horsepower. The VRH35 engine was developed for the Group C and was first installed in the R89C. In 1990, the VRH35 evolved into the VRH35Z for installation in the R90C. Another derivative version appeared much later, in 1997, to equip the Nissan R390 GT1, when the Japanese manufacturer decided to return to endurance racing. This was the VRH35L version. This engine was bought by McLaren from TWR after the GT1 programme. It became the M838T and then the M840T, and was then developed to equip several models of the British manufacturer, such as the MP4-12C, 720S or even the P1. Yes, the R89 and R90 have something in common with the most exclusive McLarens! 

The birth of the R89Cs coincided with the creation of the Nismo Europe department, a branch dedicated to entering prototypes in the world championship. This branch was based in England, with Howard Marsden in charge. This branch of Nismo in Europe worked in conjunction with Nissan in Japan, allowing for the first time a high level of global involvement. This two-headed organisation had become essential for entry to the full World Sports Prototype Championship season, and thus the right to compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. All three Nissan R89Cs had to retire at Sarthe (after 5 laps for the #24, 167 laps for the #23 and 250 laps for the #25).


1990, Le Mans Ni Katsu[1]

In 1990, Nissan returned to the Le Mans 24 Hours with seven cars entered this time, five of which were official. The chassis were largely modified, with the R90CP on one side and the R90CK on the other. The Nissan armada came to shine, and the commitment was strong. Thus, one could find a Nissan on the official poster and on the cover of the programme. Better still, one of the two new chicanes in the Hunaudières was named "Nissan chicane"!

On the R90CP, the main evolution came from the installation of the VRH35 engine model VRH35Z with a bonnet designed by Nissan Performance Technology (NPTI). This changed the airflow, with flow guided from the front of the bonnet via a large central air intake and two side lanes. The fairing mirrors also helped to differentiate this version, as did the new rear periscopes for brake cooling. The new R90CP model, although based on the R89C, actually had 70 per cent of the parts manufactured by Nissan and NISMO. One of the R90CPs (#23, chassis 01) used carbon brakes produced by Carbone Industrie in conjunction with Brembo calipers. This was a first in the history of the race. Nissan had made this choice (as well as mixing tyre suppliers between cars) to cope with the changes represented by the addition of the chicanes on the Hunaudiere straight. Howard Marsden, the man in charge of the project, told the 24 Hours guide: "Lap times should increase by 20 seconds, while the distance covered will decrease by 10%. On the other hand, two or three pace car interventions are to be expected. If there are any problems, it will be the brakes and the transmission that will be affected. Le Mans is now characterised by four 2 km straights. That's why we at NME will be testing carbon discs.

On the R90CK, K for 'Kae', meaning improvement in Japanese, everything was designed for performance. The first R90CK chassis appeared at Monza, in the temple of speed. A perfect place to test the main evolutions concerning for example the suspensions, with an increased travel. Thanks to more intensive work in partnership with Dunlop (who supplied exclusive tyres for the R90C), radial tyres (18" front and 19" rear) were fitted to new Speedline rims. The braking system also evolved, with a partnership signed with AP and not Brembo. For the rider, a narrower seat width had to be accommodated, due to the increased width of the spoilers. The bodywork was modified with a shorter nose, a longer rear end and now a two-piece spoiler with large drifts. Extensive wind tunnel work was carried out on the R90CK to achieve a massive ground effect combined with top speeds approaching 400 km/h. In 1990, Mark Blundell achieved the first ever pole position in the 24 Hours of Le Mans for a Japanese marque with a time of 3'27''020 in the #24 R90CK. A time that would allow today to fight with the Hypercar!

In summary, the R90CK had an aerodynamic configuration adapted to sprint racing, the result of collaboration between Nissan Europe (NME) and Lola in Milton Keynes. The R90CP was designed for the Japanese Prototype Sports Championship, developed by Nismo in Japan. At Le Mans, there were cars run by Nissan's European (#24 and #25), American (#83 and #84) and Japanese (#23) subsidiary. No two Nissans were exactly alike: bodywork, tyres, brakes, mirrors, livery and, above all, sponsors - there were many details to distinguish them. 

Of the five prototypes on the entry list, only two would see the chequered flag, the R90CP of Hasemi/Hoshino/Suzuki in 7th place and the R90CK of Millen/Roe/Earl in 17th.


The first Nissan R89C chassis to be assembled, #R89C-01 was determined at Snetterton in March 1989, before running on a private track in April in Arizona. There, the car reached a speed of 386 km/h. It was then at Dijon, for the first competition appearance in the World Sports Prototype Championship, that #R89C-01 was seen. Julian Bailey and Mark Blundell finished 15th in the final race, after setting the 6th fastest time in practice, not far behind the Mercedes! At Le Mans, Julian Bailey and Mark Blundell were accompanied by another British hopeful, Martin Donnelly. The latter drove in 3'24''09 in practice, just ahead of Bailey in 3'24''26! The #24 Nissan reached a top speed of 380 km/h.

The 12th place on the grid did not seem to satisfy Julian Bailey who, at the start, decided to make a mad dash for it. He passed all his rivals, until he was fighting for second place with Nielsen's Jaguar. But a contact at Mulsanne stopped his cavalcade. The machine had been hit, a suspension link had pierced the hull and he had to retire. In 1990, the #R89C-01 was updated and improved, particularly in terms of suspension and aerodynamics. It arrived at Le Mans in mid-May with Brembo steel brakes and Goodyear tyres. Its entry was privately insured by the Courage team, the car being on loan. This NISSAN R89CP made its last appearance at the Fuji 500 km where it proudly carried the number 01 as NISSAN had won the Japanese Championship the previous year. Qualifying in 3rd position, it finished in 9th position driven by M Hasemi and A Olofsson. The previous year, the duo had finished second in the car and won the Fuji 500. It was after the Fuji 500 in 1991 that this NISSAN was placed in the Nissan Heritage Collection. More than 31 years have passed and this racing beast is a real time capsule that still wears its original livery and the stigma of the race on its bodywork. A sleeping beauty that only deserves to be back on the track.

In 2022, it joined the Ascott Collection.

[1] "Le Mans objective" in Japanese 

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