The driver line-up for Nissan’s revolutionary ZEOD RC prototype will feature two past winners of the Nissan PlayStation GT Academy program with Belgian driver Wolfgang Reip signed to join Lucas Ordóñez at this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours.
In 2012, Reip won the European edition of the GT Academy program that takes virtual racers from their living room to the racetrack through the legendary Gran Turismo PlayStation game.
The Belgian made his race debut in the 2013 Dubai 24 Hours and was subsequently selected to represent Nissan in the Blancpain Endurance Series where he impressed as a rookie.
Reip’s speed aboard the GT3-spec Nissan GT-R earned him a seat for the Bahrain round of the FIA World Endurance Championship where he finished on the podium in his first race in a prototype for Greaves Motorsport in LM P2.
The Le Mans rookie will line up alongside inaugural GT Academy winner Lucas Ordóñez in the ZEOD RC. The final driver will be announced in the near future. Ordóñez heads into the 2014 Le Mans 24 hours with two LM P2 podium finishes at the classic French endurance event.
Reip has already tested the ZEOD RC and has been in action for the Japanese manufacturer contesting the Bathurst 12 Hour in Australia earlier this month aboard a Nissan GT-R.
“Every time we have given Wolfgang another opportunity, he has grabbed it with open arms,” said Darren Cox, Nissan Global Motorsports Director. “He impressed everybody with his speed in Dubai last year, did a brilliant job in the Blancpain Series and then really opened everyone’s eyes with his LM P2 pace in Bahrain. Not only has he been fast, but he is a quick learner and his technical feedback has been quite exceptional. We’ve already had him behind the wheel of the ZEOD RC in testing and he has again really impressed everyone. He and Lucas work very well together, and it is quite fitting that our first couple of drivers on such a unique electric-powered car began their careers with a PlayStation plugged into the electric power socket in their living room.”
The Nissan ZEOD RC uses a pair of electric motors that will push the car at speeds in excess of 300 km/h for a complete lap of Le Mans – the first car to complete this goal in the race’s history.
A revolutionary 40 kg/400 horsepower 3-cylinder turbo engine will accompany the electric motors. The car’s battery will be charged by regenerative braking during each fuel stint with the electric motors taking over for one lap for each tank of fuel.
The Nissan ZEOD RC will occupy “Garage 56” at Le Mans, the entry reserved by the Automobile Club de L’Ouest for cars demonstrating new and innovative technology.
WOLFGANG REIP Q&A
Q1: When you won GT Academy in 2012, did you ever think it would lead to opportunities like this?
Reip: My initial GT Academy prize was to do the Dubai 24 Hours. My first surprise was being selected to race for Nissan in the Blancpain Series in the GT3 car. That blew me away and this takes things to a new level.
We were talking about the ZEOD at Le Mans last year where the car was launched and I thought there would be no way I would get the chance to drive it.
When I got the call, all I could think of was “wow.” I have only been a race driver for around 18 months. It really is incredible.
Q2: How big a responsibility is it to be selected for this role by Nissan?
Reip: I’m very proud to have been selected to join Lucas (Ordóñez) as part of the driver lineup for the ZEOD RC.
I have tried to make the most of the opportunities I have had as a NISMO athlete, and it is very rewarding that I have been able to do well so far and open up more great opportunities.
It is a big responsibility that Nissan has entrusted me with this role, so I will continue to take it very seriously and I really want to help Nissan and all the team to do the best job we can with this amazing car.
Q3: How thrilled are you to get the chance to race at Le Mans?
Reip: Le Mans is one of the most famous tracks in the world. I have had the chance to drive at Spa-Francorchamps and Bathurst in the past year, but now to get the chance to race at Le Mans is fantastic. I’m really looking forward to it.
All my life I have been dreaming about this race. I had the chance to visit as a spectator in the past couple of years, and now to be able to drive on the track in the Nissan ZEOD RC is just incredible.
I’ve already had the chance to test the ZEOD RC, and it is something completely different to anything I’ve driven before. No one has tackled this type of challenge before, and to be involved in such a project is amazing. I’m really proud to be involved.
The development of the powertrain is a really interesting project. I have learned a great deal on technical side of things, spending time with the engineers and the team. As a driver it is extremely useful for me to learn more about the technical side, especially for such a unique project.
Driving down the Mulsanne Straight at 300 km/h in virtual silence will be something very special. Nobody has done it before and I really can’t imagine what it is going to feel like.
Q4: How much did you enjoy your prototype debut in 2013?
Reip: Last year I drove a Nissan-powered LM P2 prototype at the Bahrain round of the FIA World Endurance Championship. It was certainly my greatest experience yet in racing. It is much faster than a GT car – lots more downforce, and the braking is much more efficient.
The steering is far more sensitive; you really feel everything that the car is doing. It was a great experience. You were able to be much more accurate with the steering in the P2 machine and the ZEOD is even more nimble and precise.
Q5: How big a challenge does the Nissan ZEOD RC team face in the months ahead?
Reip: The challenge we’re tackling at Nissan is very unique to complete an entire lap of Le Mans on electric power. It’s the type of thing you don’t even see in Formula 1 yet.
The electric aspect is a big part of this project, but the internal combustion engine in the ZEOD is also quite incredible.
The power-to-weight ratio of the ZEOD RC DIG-T R is better than what you’ll see in Formula 1, and it weighs only 40 kilograms but with 400 horsepower.
You really need to see the engine to believe it; you can actually pick it up and carry it. When you take the bodywork off the back of the car, you really can’t see the engine in the back because it is so small – it is remarkable.
The feel between the electric engine and the internal combustion engine is completely different. It is not just the sound. With the electric engine, you feel the torque straight away from the moment you hit the throttle. It comes on at 100 percent straight away.