Nissan Promises ZEOD RC Will Be Fastest Electric Race Car Yet

By · June 24, 2013

The ZEOD RC, Zero Emission On Demand Race Car

Nissan, on Friday, unveiled what may not only be a harbinger of electrification in motorsports, but also a testbed for accelerating the development of electric vehicle technology. The ZEOD RC (Zero Emission On Demand Racing Car) is based on the Nissan DeltaWing, the company's 2012 entry in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and will incorporate a combination of electric vehicle and petrol engine technology.

The goals include racing in the 2014 running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, hitting 300+ kilometers/hr (186 miles/hr) speeds, to serve as the prototype for Nissan's reentry into the top rung of the LM P1 class in the World Endurance Cup, to demonstrate the power of electrified vehicles, and bring better technology to electric road cars.

Aiming to win in endurance racing with an electrified car, while changing the perception of electric vehicles forever, is a big goal. We like that.

The World Endurance Cup is one of the more grueling racing formats, where drivers and teams race continuously for 6 hours, 8 hours, or even 24 hours, depending on the event. It's the last place one would expect an electric vehicle, if only because of range issues. Both Audi and Toyota are racing in, and dominating, the WEC with hybrid race cars, but these are KERS systems which implement a mechanical version of regenerative braking where braking energy is stored in a flywheel, then released during acceleration out of corners.

In February, Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn announced Nissan had been selected as the "Garage 56" entry for the 2014 running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, with an "all-new race car incorporating electric technology," that will be "a new approach to innovation and excitement [that] will be at the project's core." Nissan would "return to Le Mans with a vehicle that will act as a high-speed test bed in the harshest of environments for both our road car and race car electric vehicle technology," said Mr. Ghosn.

The Le Mans Garage 56 entry is reserved for experimental vehicles. In 2013, a hydrogen fueled race car dubbed the GreenGT was supposed to occupy Garage 56, but the team pulled out a couple months ago. Bringing electrification to racing is at the cutting edge of motorsports innovation. While racing series like NEDRA, TTXGP, e-Power or TT ZERO have been running for years, and while the 2013 Pikes Peak Hill Climb includes an astonishing list of electric entrants, nothing has yet been attempted at the scale and prestige as an entry in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

ZEOD RC side view

What Nissan unveiled on Friday is a prototype vehicle, and an overview description of the powertrain they'll use in the 2014 race. It's based on the DeltaWing race car Nissan entered in the 2012 race at Le Mans. The designer of that car, Ben Bowlby, is in charge of the new project and now carries the title of Director of Motorsport Innovation. The DeltaWing excelled at reducing aerodynamic drag and weight.

Rather than race with a pure electric car, the Nissan team is looking to field a hybrid electric. It will use similar battery, inverter and motor technology as is used in the Nissan Leaf, and the total weight of the ZEOD RC is about 700 kilograms. Nissan is being cagey about the details of the drive train, saying they're going to try a wide range of options. Jerry Hardcastle, speaking during the press conference, implied they'll be marrying "downsized gasoline injection turbo-engines" with battery, inverter and electric motor technology very similar to the components used in the Nissan Leaf. Turbocharged engines were originally developed in race and sports cars for speed and power, but most of the manufacturers have since used the technique in road cars to improve fuel efficiency. The ZEOD RC will use regenerative braking to electrically capture energy, reusing that energy during acceleration.

The exact behavior of the drive train is still up in the air. Nissan will be testing a variety of options at tracks around the world over the next year.

Nissan's electric family

Nissan sees itself as the leader in electric vehicles globally and is positioning the ZEOD RC as part of that push into electric vehicles. They're bringing the technology developed for the Leaf, upscaling it to the needs of a 300+ km/hr race car, to test it in the extreme conditions of endurance racing. Just as previous generations of automotive technology were birthed at the race track, Nissan plans to then bring technology developed for the ZEOD RC back to road cars. It isn't a one-off project either, Nissan's future participation in the World Endurance Cup LM P1 class will continue to use electrified drive train technology developed from the ZEOD RC.

With a virtuous circle like this, electric vehicle technology development should accelerate. We've already seen this effect in electric motorcycle racing, where between 2009 and 2012 performance in the TTXGP, e-Power and TT ZERO series showed dramatic jumps year-after-year.

"Nissan has become a global leader in the development of zero emission automotive technology, and 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 LM P1 power train," said Andy Palmer, Executive Vice President and Executive Committee member at Nissan Motor Company Limited. He added, "The Nissan ZEOD RC is a natural progression that follows on from the development of the Nissan LEAF road car and the LEAF RC race car prototype. The technologies developed through the ZEOD RC program will form part of future innovations for Nissan road cars. Nissan is already a global leader in the sale of all-electric cars and we're eagerly awaiting the opportunity to showcase the lessons learnt with the development of battery technology in the world's oldest, toughest and most high profile endurance race."

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