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Nissan aiming to build radically different 2015 Le Mans prototype

By Ben Pulman

12 December 2013 12:00

Nissan is targeting an entry into the 2015 Le Mans 24hrs with a race car that will be radically different to the LMP1 prototypes fielded by Porsche, Audi and Toyota.

Nissan will compete at Le Mans in 2014 with the radical ZEOD RC, filling the ‘experimental competitor’ pit garage last used in 2012 by the Nissan-powered DeltaWing, but it wants to use that experience to build a challenger for the premier LMP1 category in 2015, one that stands out from the rest of the field.

‘We have an active programme now,’ Nissan chief planning officer Andy Palmer (pictured, right) told CAR. ‘Nismo [Nissan Motorsports] races in Japanese Super GT, GT3, GT1, we have LMP2 engines, and we have LMP1 aspirations…’

Will Nissan’s 2015 Le Mans entry look like the DeltaWing and ZEOD RC?

Unfortunately not. New-for-2014 Le Mans regulations have encouraged Porsche back to the legendary circuit at La Sarthe, but they don’t allow for a narrow-track race car like the ZEOD RC – which uses the special ‘garage no.56’ loophole designed to encourage experimental entries. ‘We have to conform to the rules,’ explains Palmer. ‘But we have to have a solution different to Toyota, Porsche and Audi. We have the ZEOD in garage no.56, but for LMP1 we can’t persuade the ACO to allow us to race a ZEOD. We want something to race, but we want to stand out.’

That means, in the best racing tradition (of which rival Porsche was a pioneer), Nissan has interpreted the latest rules and regulations and come up with a concept it’s happy with. ‘The regulations were written in the context of what was known at the time,’ says Palmer. ‘We have a concept that would conform to those regulations, but now we have to check if it conforms to someone else’s view. We have to be allowed to be the bad boys of the industry, to interpret the regulations. The ACO [the governing body of the Le Mans 24hrs] has been very collaborative, but a decision has not been made yet.’

Palmer hinted that Nissan could look at other races, including the Nürburgring 24hrs that has previously allowed experimental entries from Porsche hybrids and hydrogen-powered Astons, as a showcase for a future radical race car if it can’t come to an agreement with the ACO. ‘We simply won’t go to Le Mans if we have to conform.’

What else do we know about Nissan’s new LMP1 racer?

The new Le Mans regulations allow for any configuration of petrol or diesel engine, instead focusing on energy usage per lap, but Palmer acknowledges that despite Nissan’s wish to enter a 100% zero-emissions race car, it’s not feasible for a 24-hour race.

Palmer’s other desires? ‘It must be visually different, and technically different, so consistent with our vision of the road towards zero emissions, and autonomous driving. Autonomous driving does not mean autonomous driving, but zero fatalities. Like ABS, you don’t use the technology until the one time you get it all wrong, but the system can see and calculate if a child will kick the ball into the road and react ten-times quicker than you. How did the DeltaWing get hit at Le Mans? Because someone in a Toyota didn’t see it…’

Does Nissan think its radical LMP1 prototype could be victorious at Le Mans?

‘Racing is about trialing technology,’ says Palmer. ‘The DeltaWing didn’t win, but it got more noise than anything else. Story telling is much more interesting…’

>> Click here to read CAR's interview with the head of Porsche's 2014 Le Mans comeback