Nissan targets top class

As new Le Mans hybrid makes public debut at Fuji

Nissan has taken the first steps towards building a hybrid Le Mans 24 Hours challenger to next year’s LMP1 rulebook to take on Audi, Toyota and Porsche from 2015.

The Japanese manufacturer is committed to entering the P1 division as a condition of its ‘Garage 56’ entry with the ZEOD RC racer at next year’s 24 Hours. Nissan had wanted to join the top division with a more avant-garde racer, possibly an all-electric car, but it has been told by the Automobile Club de l’Ouest at Le Mans that it must compete within the framework of the new rules.

Nissan global motor sport boss Darren Cox said: “What we wanted to do was probably a step too far. We completely understand the ACO’s position, because trying to balance petrol and diesel cars is difficult enough.”

The ACO said it is open to new fuels and technologies in LMP1, but has stated that 2015 would be too early by some margin to extend the scope of the new category.

Cox explained that “seed funding” was already in place to start conceptual work on the P1, but stressed that the programme had not been given the final go-ahead despite its obligation to the ACO. “Until the budget is locked in, we cannot be sure that it will happen,” he said. “Our normal budget cycle begins in December, so we could expect a decision then.”

No decisions have been made regarding “where to build it and who will run it”, according to Cox. “The first step is to look at the different concepts to see what is needed in terms of the powertrain.”

The ZEOD was launched in Japan in October ahead of its first public appearance at the Fuji round of the WEC. Nissan abandoned plans to run the car around a full lap on only electric power and instead demonstrated it on the main straight. Cox explained that the electric drivetrain was not yet able to run on full power.

“The different parts – the battery, the motors and the management systems – are not allowing each other to do their jobs,” he said.

“All the bits work perfectly well on their various dynos, but when you get to put them together, they aren’t talking to each other properly.”

Early reports that the internal-combustion part of the ZEOD’s powertrain is a supercharged three-cylinder engine are “almost correct”, according to Cox.

Gary Watkins