LE MANS, France - On Friday, Nissan unveiled the ground-breaking, innovative ZEOD RC - the world's fastest electric racing car - that will reach speeds of more than 185 miles-per-hour at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The ZEOD RC (Zero Emission On Demand Racing Car) will make its race debut at next year's 24-hour classic.
Nissan will test variants of new electric drive train technologies as part of its intended future return to LMP1 competition to challenge for overall victory at the world's most prestigious endurance race.
Nissan's invitation from the Automobile Club de l'Ouest (ACO) to compete in the 2014 Le Mans 24 Hours was announced by Nissan Chairman and CEO, Carlos Ghosn in Japan in February. The car will compete under the ACO's 'Garage 56' entry - an additional spot on the grid for vehicles that showcase new and innovative technology.
Run as a Nissan / Nismo full factory international program with input from Japan, Europe and the United States, the Nissan ZEOD RC 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.
While the car will not race until next year's Le Mans 24 Hours, Nissan kicked off the public aspect of the program, with race fans getting the chance to unveil the car in the public area of the Circuit de la Sarthe.
"The Nissan ZEOD RC will allow us to further develop those capabilities using the toughest endurance race in the world as a mobile test bed to test the potential of our planned LMP1 power train," said Andy Palmer, Executive Vice President and Executive Committee member at Nissan Motor Company Limited. "The ZEOD RC program is designed to develop multiple technologies to evaluate how they could be used for a future LMP1 class return of Nissan at the Le Mans 24 Hour. There are multiple options we are investigating. A Zero Emission on Demand option where the driver can switch between electric and petrol-powered drive is a future direction for road cars, so that will be tested in addition to pure electric power and other new technologies that we still have under development."
Palmer also recognizes how the ZEOD RC could help change opinions of electric cars.
"Clearly, Nissan is going to Le Mans to prove a point," he said. "We will prove that a battery-electric vehicle with can perform with incredible performance.
"Perhaps, the man on the street might think that a Ferrari GT is the fastest car out there, but this car, at the same track, at the same time, running on pure electric power could run laps faster than the Ferrari GT. I think that is an extraordinary statement."
While current battery technology does not provide the energy storage capacity to race a solely electric Le Mans prototype, Nissan ZEOD RC designer Ben Bowlby believes the development of the car will be an important step in the "electrification" of the race cars of the future.
"Developing a car like this provides an incredibly challenging test bed for what could be highly-effective options for road cars of the future. Throughout the next 12 months we will be testing multiple drive train options in an extensive test program," Bowlby said.
"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."
Bowlby said Nissan will have to work closely with the ACO over the nezt year.
"A large part of our work in the coming months is to discuss with the ACO future opportunities for the 'electrification' of the Le Mans rules in the future and work towards delivering appropriate technology," he said. "Garage 56 is a bold move by the ACO to showcase Innovation and allow testing of untried components and systems for future competition use. To this end they are the most forward thinking promoter in motorsport today."
Nissan will partner with French tire manufacturer Michelin to produce tires for the new prototype.Nissan previously joined forces with Michelin on the Nissan DeltaWing program. The Clermont-Ferrand-based manufacturer has an enviable record at the Le Mans 24 Hour, winning the past 15 consecutive races overall.
The Nissan ZEOD RC will make its testing debut later this summer.