Nissan says its new hybrid Le Mans racer, which will compete in the famous 24-hour race in 2014, will provide crucial information about extracting high performance out of electric motors and batteries that will be of benefit to its road car division.
The Japanese manufacturer has been invited back to Le Mans next year in the prized ‘Garage 56’ slot set aside for experimental technology. The new car, unveiled on the eve of last weekend’s 24 hours and bearing the name Zero Emissions On Demand (ZEOD), will be powered by an internal combustion engine and electric motors.
Nissan will test various powertrain combinations before settling on the final specification. The car has been built to be flexible and accommodate several different power iterations during testing. It will, however, use the same core battery technology as used in the Nissan Leaf EV (albeit with uprated battery units to cope with the higher power demands) and will utilise regenerative braking to replenish the energy of the batteries.
Although Audi and Toyota have pioneered hybrid systems in top-level sportscars, Nissan's experimental racer will not be bound by the regulations laid down by the Automobile Club de l'Ouest and so will be free to push the technology more adventurously.
The Audi R18 e-tron and Toyota TS030 utilise hybrid power in short bursts. Depending on the final specification of the powertain, the drivers of ZEOD could be able to switch between electric and ICE power as desired. Project chiefs are keen to see the car complete an entire 8.5-mile racing lap of Le Mans on EV power alone. The car’s super-efficient aerodynamics means it should be capable of about 185mph on the Mulsanne Straight, and Nissan’s calculations suggest it could lap Le Mans quicker than a Ferrari 458 GT2 car, meaning a sub-four minute lap.