When a broken engine can help you in a race

Le Mans, June 14th, 1990. Nissan Motorsports had three cars on the track, ready for the gruesome 24 hours of racing on the following Saturday, June 15th. Two of them were RC90CK and one was the older RC89CP. Mark Blundell was piloting RC90CK #24, and it was his turn at qualifying on that Friday.

Specially at high level endurance racing, there’s an equilibrium between raw power and engine lifespan. All cars can produce more power then what they race with, but their engines would not last the 24 hours. So essentially engines are detuned for reliability. However, unbeknown to Mark or the whole Nissan team, his engine was faulty. When he started his qualifying lap, the wastegate for his RC90CK’s turbo system stuck shut. That translated to instead of the optimal 700-800 hp normally produced by his 3.5-liter twin-turbo V8, the turbos were delivering in excess of 1000 hp!

Blundell’s qualifying lap in the “broken” RC90CK .

With that kind of raw power he lapped La Sarthe in an eye-watering 3m27.020s. Okay, but is that fast? If you take into consideration that the second fastest came a full 6 seconds (!!) behind, that’s unheard of. During that lap, on the Mulsanne straight he reached 383 km/h. As a comparison, the 2019’s pole position (Rebellion’s R-One AER #13) clocked 339.1 km/h in qualifying.

So unbelievably, a mechanical issue in your own engine can bizarrely be to your advantage 😲.

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