24 Hours of Le Mans - Nissan, 25 years later...
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24 Hours of Le Mans - Nissan, 25 years later...

Twenty-five years ago, Nissan became the first Japanese manufacturer to clinch the pole position at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. A look back at this feat, in an era particularly remarkable for Japanese marques.

For the 24 Hours of Le Mans circuit, the year 1990 also carried with it a fundamental change, with the appearance of two chicanes at the Mulsanne Straight. The general opinion at the time was that they slowed lap times by 15 or so seconds…which did not detract from the impact of the pole position at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, an always coveted first step for potential winners. For Nissan as for Jaguar and Porsche, its main rivals, it was a question of prestige.

After qualifying, it was thanks to British driver Mark Blundell that Nissan entered history. For the first time, a Japanese manufacturer had scored the pole position - with a time of 3:27:02 (236.499 km/h average). By pulling the 15 extra seconds during the extra lap linked to the presence of the chicanes, Blundell would have beaten by three seconds the pole clocked the year before by the Sauber-Mercedes of Jean-Louis Schlesser (3:15:04) had it been achieved at a straight Mulsanne Straight! Additionally, this astounding performance rejected by more than six seconds the closest adversary of the No. 24 Nissan R90 CK, the Porsche 962 C of Oscar Larrauri-Jesus Pareja-Walter Brun. Things would prove more difficult in the race, in the end won by the Jaguar of Martin Brundle-Price Cobb-John Nielsen. The Nissan of Mark Blundell-Gianfranco Brancatelli-Julian Bailey was forced to retire at the 11th hour, while that of Martin Donnelly-Kenny Acheson-Olivier Grouillard (No. 25) incurred a gearbox issue as of the first lap.

Toshio Suzuki-Masahiro Hasemi-Kazuyoshi Hoshino (No. 23) finished fifth and became the first 100% Japanese driver line-up to reach the top 5 at the 24 Hours. After Nissan got the pole in 1990, the following year Mazda became - with at the wheel the trio Johnny Herbert-Bertrand Gachot-Volker Weidler - the first, and still to-date, Japanese manufacturer to win in La Sarthe. But now, Toyota and Nissan both fully intend to match Mazda as soon as possible…

The 83rd edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans will take place Saturday and Sunday, June 13-14, 2015.