Nissan made history at Le Mans with its revolutionary ZEOD RC recording the first ever all electric lap of the 8.5-mile circuit during the morning warm-up for the race.
GT Academy winner Wolfgang Reip, who will start the race for Nissan, was at the wheel as the ZEOD RC completed the lap powered by a pair of 110 kW electric motors rotating at 40,000rpm.
The achievement meant the car was well on the way to reaching the second milestone earmarked by Nissan NISMO president, Shoichi Miyatani.
Miyatani runs the team that is contesting the 24 Hours as the Garage 56 entry, specially reserved for experimental ‘green’ machinery and the ZEOD RC follows in the footsteps of the Nissan Deltawing, the similarly futuristic car that debuted the Garage 56 class in 2012.
Talking to The Huffington Post UK, Myatani revealed his four targets or “reliefs” for the race, one of which was achieved during qualifying, when the car reached 300kph on purely electric power, which he described as a “marvellous achievement”.
“The second step is to go into the race do one stint with possibly 11 or 12 laps on engines followed by one or two on electric only. This combination, if we achieve one stint with that, will be a second relief.
“The third relief is to look at the total speed. The [best] time we did was 3min50s [lap]. I had expected a little but more than that, I’m expecting 3m40 to 45-ish.
“The fourth is to finish 24 Hours.”
Nissan’s DeltaWing ran for six hours in 2012 before being hit by an LMP1 car which put it into the wall at the Porsche Curves, from which it never recovered. And that is one of the worries for Miyatani and the ZEOD RC.
“To run for 24 hours we need to take care of a lot of things. The car is relatively small, relatively low and sometimes not so much visible from the LMP1 and LMP2 cars. That’s what happened with the DeltaWing. Somehow it has to be visible and the car movements must not be unexpected.
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“All the LMP car drivers are expecting the car to behave like this but if it moves another way, then there could be a crash, so the drivers have to be very, very careful.
However, Mitayami is confident that his three drivers – Reip, Lucas Ordonez and Satoshi Motoyama – will be able to handle themselves and the ZEOD RC because of their involvement in Super GT racing in Japan.
“Super GT has two categories, 500 and 300, with different speeds in a combined race. So, they are pretty much aware of how to overtake and how to let other cars overtake. That’s very important.”
After completing the first all-electric lap of Le Mans, Reip described the experience as a “strange sensation”.
“It is a huge thrill for me to become the first ever driver to complete an all-electric lap of Le Mans,” he said, “Especially since this is my debut at the race… I’m really thrilled.
“I actually got held up by a GT car during the lap. I was able to get past and it was quite a strange sensation to go by on electric power.”
Nissan entered Garage 56 with the ZEOD RC (which stands for ‘zero emissions on demand’) with the proviso it was granted an entry for the LMP1 class in 2015, when it will compete with the as-yet unseen GT-R LM NISMO, a project still heavily under wraps.
The ZEOD allows the driver to switch between two power sources – the pair of electric motors or the unique 1.5 litre, 40 kilogram, 400 horsepower three-cylinder internal combustion engine.