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Nissan to enter experimental EV in 2014 Le Mans race

Nissan ZEOD RC is said to be capable of speeds over 300 km/h with electric power

Published: June 24, 2013, 9:00 PM
Updated: April 29, 2018, 3:09 PM

Nissan is raising its bet on an electric-vehicle (EV) future by announcing plans to enter an EV in the 24-hour Le Mans race in 2014.

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A prototype of the car was unveiled at the Sarthe circuit prior to this year's running of the 24-hour race, amid claims that it will achieve speeds in excess of 300 km/h.

Anyone familiar with electric vehicles knows there's no way an EV could be capable of such speeds for any extended period of time – certainly not for 24 hours.

Nissan knows that as well. So the race car will have a gasoline engine, too, though it won't be a conventional hybrid-drive concept like the Audi and Toyota LMP1 race cars.

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It will be capable of operating in either combustion-engine or EV mode independently. Hence its name: ZEOD RC – for Zero Emissions On Demand Race Car.

A Zero Emission on Demand option where the driver can switch between electric and gasoline-powered drive is a future direction for road cars, the company says. So that concept will be tested in addition to pure electric power and other new technologies that Nissan has under development.

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Nissan was invited by the Automobile Club de l'Ouest (ACO) – the Le Mans organizing body – to compete in the 2014 Le Mans 24 race as a "Garage 56" entry. "Garage 56" is an additional reserved spot on the grid for vehicles that showcase new and innovative technologies.

As such it won't be competing for class or overall positions with any of the other cars in the race.

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Nissan was involved with a "Garage 56" entry in 2012, in the form of the radical DeltaWing, for which it provided both an engine and sponsorship.

The company is no longer involved in the controversial DeltaWing project, although the ZEOD RC, as unveiled, bears a strong resemblance to that bizarre car. It features an extremely narrow front track, which gives it something of a tricycle look.

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It is said use a variation of the same lithium battery technology as used in the Nissan LEAF, but little else seems certain at this point.

Multiple electric drivetrain technologies will be tested before racing in 2014 Le Mans 24 Hour race Nissan says, noting intention to return to LM P1 competition and challenge for overall victory at the world's most prestigious endurance race at some point in the future.

In the meantime, the ZEOD RC will run as a Nissan / NISMO full factory international program with input from Japan, Europe and the U.S. The car's design team is headed by Ben Bowlby, who has been newly appointed as Nissan's Director of Motorsport Innovation and previously worked on the Nissan DeltaWing program in 2012.

"Developing a car like this provides an incredibly challenging test bed for what could be highly effective options for road cars of the future," says Bolby. "We have many options to consider and test. The test program is part of a longer term goal of developing a system and a set of rules for this type of technology in partnership with the ACO that would be best suited to competing at the highest level of this sport."

Andy Palmer, executive vice president and executive committee member at Nissan adds: "The Nissan ZEOD RC will allow us to further develop (our) capabilities using the toughest endurance race in the world as a mobile test bed to test the potential of our planned LM P1 power train. The technologies developed through the ZEOD RC program will form part of future innovations for Nissan road cars."

Nissan will partner with French tire manufacturer Michelin to produce tires for the new prototype. The two joined forces previously on the DeltaWing program.

The Nissan ZEOD RC will make its testing debut later this summer.

While the company had no involvement in the top LMP1 class of this year's Le Mans race, Nissan engines powered15 of the 22 entries in the LMP2 class, including the top five finishers in the class.