Nissan ZEOD RC Q&A: Ben Bowlby, Nissan Director of Motorsport Innovation

Q: How does this car differ in its battery technology from what Audi and Toyota are doing at Le Mans?

A: Audi and Toyota are running pure KERS solutions, but we're looking at using electric technology in very different ways. We have a couple of different options we'll be testing – one where we'll switch between electric and petrol power with the push of a button

We're building an extremely flexible platform with which we'll be able to try multiple different options – even during the same multi-day test.
It is about experimenting and gathering data to work out how we use electricity to develop a competitive LM P1 program in the future.

We will be working very closely with the ACO throughout the test program to help develop where this technology fits within the Le Mans rules package.

Q: What are the key parameters for what this car can achieve with electric power?

A: The Nissan ZEOD, under electric power alone, could actually run laps around Le Mans, faster than a Ferrari GT car. This is a sub four-minute lap. It would be a record, because there is no official race lap record for a pure EV car. It's an extremely exciting statement. It tells us where the technology of the battery-electric vehicle stands today. But this is just one of the options we have for "electrifying" Le Mans. This is an intensive development program that we are also going to showcase to the fans – they'll get to see us test the different options over the next twelve months. Some ideas will work – some won't – but this is all about taking risks and not just building what everyone else is doing, launching a new LM P1 program and expecting to be successful.

Could we use electric power to Le Mans one day? We don't know yet, but we're not going to find out by just dreaming about it. Nissan is going to go out and find out what is possible and what can be done.

Q: Where is battery technology going? Are we presently constrained by what it can do for electric engines?

A: Battery technology will continue to develop and improve as new discoveries are made and laboratory breakthroughs are applied to production vehicles. This is the same as what we see with combustion engines where breakthroughs are made that allow incredible performance from efficient small capacity engines. It doesn't constrain use, it is just important to match it to the use the car or racecar is designed for.

Just as a diesel engine designed for a 4x4 wouldn't be appropriate for a supermini or single seater racecar, a 100% battery electric was not suitable for a 24-hour high-speed endurance race. But it is very important to remember that it is very suitable for a significant percentage of road car drivers who don't generally drive day and night at over 300 km/h.

I think what we're showcasing is a potential route that uses the existing technology within Nissan and its battery technology. Nissan is in a great position of having a suite of alternative fuel technologies in use or in development and can pick the best on for the needs of the car or even racecar.

Q: Explain the ACO's Garage 56 project. Do you think, after Nissan's work, more manufacturers will start fighting over the coveted spot?

A: The ACO have been incredibly smart to make the Garage 56 available and it's now becoming a highly desirable spot. I think the fact that there was no Garage 56 for years and suddenly since the DeltaWing in 2012, this is the start of a new brand of innovation.

The poor automobile has been stuck in suspended animation in many respects from an innovation standpoint. Suddenly, racing has become the place to prove new technology.  This is why racing started in the first place. This is a key statement: that the ACO set up an opportunity for people to bring in cars outside the regulations and manufacturers have taken it up. Maybe we'll find there will be an innovation garage for GTs and for Prototypes someday, I don't know. The ACO were bold and look at how it's become a huge part of the Le Mans story already.

The great thing about this project is the fact that Nissan and the ACO want to use next year's car as a stepping stone to bringing electric power to the race itself where "electrified" cars compete in the main classes against powertrains.

Q: Are you hoping to inspire designers, students of engineering and race fans?

A: I think everyone is interested in something new. People are sometimes afraid of change because of the risks involved, but new things are always worth a second look. I think the Nissan ZEOD race car at Le Mans will not only attract the interest of youth, but I think it will attract the complete gamut of spectators; middle age men and women as well as young people. It will also be interesting to the older generation, looking back and thinking on innovations of the past.

It's of our time. We're doing something new and different and it has a long story. This is not a flash in the pan. This is rolling into the future of the automobile. I think it might inspire people to get involved in the sport. It's certainly opened people's eyes to the technology they'll be encountering in show rooms in the future. It will also inspire people to believe that racing is more than cars going around in circles it is a demonstration of technology of the future.

Q: It's a steep climb to change people's beliefs on what should power the automobile. Will the Nissan ZEOD be a tipping point?

A: I think the young generation, we'll call them the iPod generation, who have become accustomed to plugging in their smart phones in the evening, are less concerned with the concept of having to plan and make sure that their transportation is fully charged for the following day.

Having said that, we don't know what the future of transportation is. We do know that we have more cars on the road globally than ever before. We know that the amount of energy consumed by human transportation is at the highest level it's ever been. As a result, there are challenges from an environmental standpoint, from an economic standpoint and from a sustainability standpoint. It is our jobs as engineers to innovate and make sure that consumers continue to be able to purchase the comfort, performance and pleasure that something like an automobile can bring. I think we're all searching for new directions and ways to meet people's needs. The electric car as we know it is becoming a more and more exciting vehicle. It's more of a high performance machine and this racecar will prove that. All these technologies are stepping-stones to the future, in our case, in motorsport, for future motilities.

Q: From a performance standpoint, can you see that the future generations are going to look at high performance electric vehicles the same we have looked at petrol-powered cars in the past?

A: I think that the excitement of the racing car should be mirrored in the excitement of driving the road car. With the sheer weight of traffic and burden of safety means we don't enjoy driving our cars as much as we wish we could. I think when you take elements of what we see in the racing program and bring some of those emotions to the road is extremely important. Yes, we want to make a car that is a pleasure to drive on the road and I think there are elements we can bring from the race track to make these future road cars more exciting, more fulfilling and give greater driving pleasure. I think that's very much a part of what the Nissan ZEOD stands for.

 

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Issued by Nissan