Two-time Le Mans 24 Hours LM P2 podium finisher and inaugural Nissan PlayStation GT Academy winner Lucas Ordóñez has been confirmed as the first race driver for Nissan's revolutionary ZEOD RC prototype.
The Nissan ZEOD RC will become the first car to complete an entire 13.6-kilometer (8.5 mile) lap of Le Mans on nothing but electrical power when it competes in this year's Le Mans 24 hours.
The car will combine electric motors with an incredible 1.5-liter, 3-cylinder turbo engine that produces 400 horsepower yet weights only 40kg (88 pounds).
The car will occupy the Automobile Club de l'Ouest's "Garage 56" at this year's Le Mans - a spot reserved for new and innovative technologies not previously seen in the French endurance classic.
For each tank of fuel used at Le Mans, the ZEOD RC will complete an additional lap on pure electric power. While operating under gasoline power, the car's battery will be recharged by regenerative braking - recycling the heat generated by the carbon brakes to produce electricity.
The development project is being used by Nissan as part of its planned assault on the LM P1 class of the Le Mans 24 Hours and the FIA World Endurance Championship in 2015.
Ordóñez won the inaugural Nissan PlayStation GT Academy competition in 2008 and made his Le Mans 24 Hours debut in 2011. In three attempts at the famous French endure, he has twice finished on the LM P2 podium. He also took championship wins in the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup in LM P2 in 2011 and last year's Blancpain Endurance Series.
Most recently he took a class victory along with four new GT Academy graduates at the Dubai 24 Hours. Ordóñez was previously confirmed as the test driver for the ZEOD RC project but has now been promoted into a race seat
"Since becoming our first GT Academy winner, Lucas has demonstrated his speed and talent in a wide variety of Nissan machinery - LM P2, GT3, GT4, Super GT and even V8 Supercar. That versatility was a key part of the decision to place him as the inaugural race driver locked in for the Nissan ZEOD RC," said Nissan Global Motorsport Director Darren Cox. "The ZEOD RC is such a unique and different car. Anybody who drives the car is going to have to adapt to an entirely different experience. Our three drivers for Le Mans will have to be versatile and eager to learn. It will be very different but they will have the opportunity to be a part of something very special in what will not only be an extremely important project for Nissan, but for the automotive industry as a whole."
Lucas Ordóñez Q&A
Q1: What will it be like to drive the ZEOD RC at Le Mans?
Ordóñez: I'm really looking forward to it. It's a very challenging project for Nissan and for me as a racing driver, to have the first opportunity to drive an electric car at Le Mans at more than 300km/h. I can't wait to begin testing and get in the car at Le Mans and do those special laps under electric power.
Q2: How interesting do you find the development process for a car like this?
Ordóñez: The development process is really complex. Nobody has done something this technologically challenging with electric vehicles before. Completing an entire lap of Le Mans on nothing but electric power is an incredible groundbreaking challenge.
I've been in the workshop back in the UK with all of the ZEOD engineers and mechanics. You can feel how much effort they're putting on this project. It will huge for Nissan. It's very complicated to put a petrol engine and electrical motors into the same car and be able to switch between the two. The 400 horsepower petrol engine that weighs only 40 kg is incredibly small - I can bring the petrol engine to Le Mans in my bag as carry-on luggage!
Our ratio of power per kilo is just incredible. It's even better than a Formula 1 car. It's a big challenge but that is the type of challenging project that Nissan thrives on - they don't choose the easy path.
Q3: What is it going to be like to travel down the Mulsanne at 300 km/h with no engine noise?
Ordóñez: It's going to unique and strange. I'm used to driving down the Mulsanne Straight between the trees at more than 300 km/h but with a lot of noise from the Nissan LMP2 engine. This time it's going to be silent. It's going to be exciting and something different. Obviously I can't wait to feel that for the first time. It will be such a unique experience.
Q4: How big of a technical challenge is it to do a full 13.6 kilometers on just electricity?
Ordóñez: It's a huge technical development. The ZEOD guys have been working really hard to bring this to fruition. If you ask the electrical staff, the batteries and the electric motors make it a very complicated project.
It's the beginning of something big and the start of the electrical era in motor racing and a great learning platform for future electric road cars. Nissan wants to be the first to do this kind of big challenge. It's going to be a tough development process, but the engineers and team are very professional. Everyone will be amazed at what Nissan can do in terms of electrical power.
Q5: Will it be a big learning experience with all of the different controls in the cockpit?
Ordóñez: It's interesting. For me as a racing driver obviously there's going to be new buttons for me in the steering wheel, such as the switch to transform from petrol power to electrical power. At the moment, we are in the learning process but we'll soon start with proper testing and we will learn all about that and show all of the fans how the ZEOD RC works and cool it is to drive.
Q6: How excited are you to be selected as the first race driver for such a significant program?
Ordóñez: For me, it's a big responsibility. To be one of the drivers for the ZEOD RC, the first electric car that will go over 300k/h at Le Mans, it's going to be a big challenge for me. But I like to work that way. I know all of the big bosses and important people of motorsport will be watching this project and I feel really lucky and proud to be a part of it. Hopefully we can succeed together at Le Mans.
Six years ago I won GT Academy. I was a normal student. It's crazy to think how far I've come in six years. I'm now going to drive the most revolutionary and challenging car seen at Le Mans in many years.
I'd never expected to be in the Le Mans 24 Hours, and now I've done it three times with two podiums and a pole position. I now feel like a professional racing driver and ready for this new challenge. I'm ready to succeed with electric power as well.