Racing might seem frivolous to the uninformed, but it serves as a proving ground for technologies that will find their way into production cars. Nissan will hit endurance races this season with an extraordinarily efficient engine in its ZEOD race car that should be the basis for new developments in its production cars.
The ZEOD race car uses a design similar to the DeltaWing car Nissan raced last season. For power, it will use a gasoline-electric hybrid system that should be competitive with the likes of the Audi R18 e-tron. In the last two 24 Hours of Le Mans races, Audi won the LMP1 class with its diesel-electric hybrid.
Nissan announced the specs for the gasoline engine component of the ZEOD's hybrid system, which will be a 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine relying on direct injection and a turbocharger. With peak power at 7,500rpm, Nissan writes that it will produce 400 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque.
Lending to the car's overall efficiency, this engine weighs only 88 pounds.
Nissan also notes that the ZEOD's electric drive system will let the car complete an entire lap under electric power. At endurance races such as Le Mans, fuel economy is as important a factor as speed. The fewer pit stops a car needs to make to refuel can result in a competitive edge.
The ZEOD's engine would likely not be suitable as a straight fit into a production car, but Nissan engineers should be able to import key architectural elements into a new production engine. Currently, Nissan's only turbocharged direct-injection engine sits under the hood of the Juke compact SUV.
Ford will hit the streets with a three-cylinder version of its Fiesta model this year. The engine in that car will also use direct injection and a turbo, but will only displace one liter and produce 123 horsepower.
With the kind of power output demonstrated by Nissan and Ford, three-cylinder engines could become the new standard.