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.
“To stand out you need to be different, but not just for different’s sake,” said Darren Cox, Nissan’s global motorsports director. “The low drag, light weight concept is exactly what the road car industry needs to pursue, so it is all relevant technology.
“We already know about battery technology through cars such as the Leaf, but getting electric motors to run at high performance for long periods, that’s the breakthrough that we’ll learn on this.”
The new car adopts the novel narrow-track front axle concept seen on the open-topped DeltaWing, a Nissan-backed project that competed at Le Mans last year, but company chiefs stress that “every last nut and bolt” on its closed-cockpit 2014 challenger is new.
The DeltaWing collaboration ceased earlier this year, with the racing team behind the original car now going it alone in US sports car racing. However, the new Nissan ZEOD is the work of the DeltaWing's designer, Ben Bowlby, who has now been appointed director of motorsport innovation at Nissan.
Bowlby said: "Audi and Toyota are running pure KERS solutions, but we’re looking at using electric technology in very different ways. We have a couple of different options we’ll be testing – one where we’ll switch between electric and petrol power with the push of a button.
"This is an intensive development program that we are also going to showcase to the fans – they’ll get to see us test the different options over the next twelve months. Some ideas will work, some won’t, but this is all about taking risks and not just building what everyone else is doing."
Nissan executive vice president Andy Palmer said: "We recognised the opportunity that Garage 56 offered and brought the DeltaWing to Le Mans. But realising what this meant and what the future could hold, Nissan has been incredibly bold by going back with this extraordinary new car, not only with a narrow track concept and extreme low-drag dynamics, but also combining our future directions for road cars by using our battery technology.
"In doing so, we’ll create a car that is totally relevant to the direction Nissan is taking for our road cars. It will meet government standards for emissions in the future, or even zero emissions in the city, and it will have the performance of a car with tremendous range and power."
Nissan’s official motorsport arm, Nismo, is also lending its weight to the project, which is seen as part of a gradual return to top-line LMP1 sports car racing. The Japanese firm is also working closely with Le Mans organiser the ACO to establish a framework for incorporating electric propulsion into the rules in the future.