The Motor Sport Month - International News

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Electrifying Le Mans

Nissan will fill Garage 56 with an electric car in 2014, By Gary Watkins

Nissan is to race at the Le Mans 24 Hours with an all-electric car next season. The Japanese manufacturer has been awarded the so-called ‘Garage 56’ grid slot at the famous race reserved for an experimental, environmentally friendly car. Nissan boss Carlos Goshn described the forthcoming electric prototype as “a pioneering Nissan race car showcasing electric technology and with zero emissions”.

The move follows Nissan’s involvement in the Delta Wing project, which was the first occupant of Garage 56 in 2012. It signed up first as engine supplier for the Project 56 group behind the radical lightweight racer and went on to effectively take over the project in the months leading up to the 24 Hours, placing the programme with the British RML sports car and touring car squad.

Nissan global motor sport director Darren Cox said: “This wouldn’t have happened without Delta Wing; we wouldn’t have had the confidence to go into this project and people wouldn’t have realised the value of Garage 56.

“Nissan is the leader in electric vehicle technology, so we should be doing something in that line on the race tracks around the world.”

The project could lead to a Nissan LMP1 entry at some point in the future. “We want to show our drivetrain to the ACO and the FIA and to see if it is possible for them to include it in their rules in the future,” said Cox. “If the technology works and all the parties agree, then potentially we can go back to the LMP1 category to try to win using a different drivetrain to Audi, Toyota and Porsche.”

Nissan has not outlined details of the electric project, but it is understood to be working with the British Zytek Engineering organisation. Zytek is a world leader in electric-vehicle technology and its motor sport arm already has links with the Japanese manufacturer’s NISMO competition arm for which it services its V8 LMP2 power unit.

Nissan’s commitment to electric vehicles has already resulted in the electric Leaf EV NISMO RC, which has been built by the manufacturer’s NISMO competition arm to show the possibilities of electric power in racing.

Alpine racing to revival

The famous Alpine name is returning to the Le Mans 24 Hours in 2013, 35 years after it won the French enduro with parent company Renault.

The French marque, which developed the Alpine-Renault A442B that triumphed at Le Mans in 1978 with Didier Pironi and Jean-Pierre Jassaud, will badge a Nissan-powered ORECA 03 LMP2 chassis. The car is to be run by the French Signatech squad for its twin assaults on the French enduro and the European Le Mans Series.

The deal is part of a strategy to relaunch Alpine as a car maker in its own right following the acquisition of a 50 per cent share by Caterham last year. The Dieppe-based company, which was taken over by Renault in 1973, has not built a car bearing its own badges since production of the A610 came to an end in 1995, but is now working on a new sports car due to hit the marketplace in three years.

Renault chief operating officer Carlos Tavares said: “Alpine’s return to the legendary Le Mans 24 Hours in 2013 marks the beginning of a new adventure which is set to last. We will do our very best to write another exciting page in the history of Alpine, a truly outstanding name in the world of French sports cars.”

Caterham owner Tony Fernandes has hinted that Alpine has aspirations to take the new sports car to Le Mans to compete in the GTE class or its successor in the future.

Delta Wing makes return

The experimental Delta Wing has returned to competition with a new engine and new tyres — and there is a coupe version of the car on the way.

Don Panoz, who was the managing partner of the Project 56 group that initiated last year’s Le Mans assault with the car, is continuing the programme despite the loss of partners Nissan and Michelin. His Elan Motorsports Technologies organisation, builder of the Panoz DP01 Champ Car of 2007, has produced a new powerplant based on the architecture of a Mazda engine and signed up to use Bridgestone tyres.

The revised car lasted just four laps on its debut at the Sebring 12 Hours after only running for the first time in the week preceding the American Le Mans Series opener. Engine problems first delayed the car and then put it out of the race.

A coupe version of the car was displayed at Sebring. Panoz has said that he wanted to race the closed car as early as the Laguna Seca round of the ALMS in April, but he now concedes that a debut sometime in the second half of the season may be more realistic.

A run of three Delta Wing tubs have been laid down at Elan with a view to the sale of customer cars in 2014.

London target for e-race

London is on the schedule for the inaugural FIA Formula E Championship which aims to bring electric vehicle racing to the streets of major cities around the world from 2014.

It was one of eight cities on a draft schedule put together by series promoter Formula E Holdings and rubberstamped by the FIA in March. Rome, Los Angeles, Rio and Beijing were also on the calendar.

The running order is understood to be little more than a wish list of potential venues. The organisation has no firm site for a circuit in London and no promoter, but it has entered into discussions with Mayor of London Boris Johnson’s office and the MSA.

Organising a street event for next season would currently require an Act of Parliament to clear the use of public roads for motor sport. But the MSA is lobbying for a change in the law that would shift the power to close roads for competitive events from parliament to local authorities. Lord Drayson, who has an involvement in Formula E Holdings and who has announced plans to run a team next year, has raised the prospect of a race on the closed roads of the Olympic Stadium.

Audi triumphs at Sebring

Audi signed off from the Sebring 12 Hours with an 11th victory in a race that has played a central role in the marque’s sports car racing story.

Benoit Treluyer, Marcel Passler and Oliver Jarvis prevailed in the 2012-spec R18 e-tron quattro over the new version of the turbodiesel driven by Allan McNish, Tom Kristensen and Lucas di Grassi. The two cars were allowed to battle right through the last ALMS event in which Audi will compete before it merges with Grand-Am for 2014 and LMP1 machinery disappears.

Audi Sport boss Wolfgang Ullrich stressed the importance of the race to the marque over the 14 years since it made its factory sports car racing debut with the R8R prototype in 1999. “It is the second most important race that we compete in after the Le Mans 24 Hours, to my mind,” he said. “It has been important in changing the view of the Audi brand in peoples’ eyes, but it has also been important in our preparations for Le Mans.”

Audi and its Joest factory squad have traditionally used Sebring as a Le Mans warm-up. In 2000 and 2006 they entered the new car they would run at Le Mans, the R8 and R10 TDI respectively, before reverting to the previous year’s car for the races leading up to the 24 Hours.

Audi is likely to be on the grid at next year’s 12 Hours because its customers compete in the Grand-Am class with the GT3-based R8 GRAND-AM, but Ullrich hinted that he would like to see the company return to a position whereby it can again challenge for overall victories. He has left the door open to Audi becoming an engine supplier or even a chassis builder in the future Daytona Prototype category.

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