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Nissan ZEOD Le Mans racer, dust to dust

About the author

Deputy editor of BBC Autos, Jonathan was formerly the editor of The New York Times' Wheels blog. His automotive writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, Details, Surface, Intersection and Design Observer. He has an affinity for the Citroën DS and Toyota pickup trucks of the early 1990s.

Like the proboscis of some exotic primate, the nose of the Nissan ZEOD RC all but invites some miscreant to tweak it. Nissan went one further, utterly vaporising the car’s ponderous front overhang – and documenting the destruction.

The hybrid racer’s carbon-fibre tub and front end were subjected to an eye-opening dexterity test in May, in anticipation of the ZEOD RC’s debut at the Le Mans 24 Hours. The car, an evolution of the DeltaWing project that was forced to retire from Le Mans in 2012 after making debilitating contact with a concrete barrier, will comprise the innovation-centric “Garage 56” entry on the starting grid.

Nissan said the racing car has cleared all safety regulations put forward by the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), the race series’ governing body. And as the video above amply demonstrates, forward collisions at speed play out in dramatic fashion, with the carbon fibre absorbing all of the released kinetic energy. But unlike a front member fashioned from aluminium or steel, the pricey material turns to dust.

The ZEOD RC is powered by an electric motor and battery powertrain derived from the Leaf electric hatchback. It also packs a 1.5-litre three-cylinder gasoline engine good for 400 horsepower, which takes over after its electric power is drained (and which can apparently fit inside a suitcase).

The ZEOD RC underwent testing at La Sarthe – as the Le Mans circuit is called – on 1 June, where it ran alongside entries from the elite LMP1 category. Indeed, the DeltaWing strung together class-competitive laps in 2012, and the ZEOD RC retains much of that car’s spirit, from its tiny front axle to its Batmobile-like form.

The 82nd running of the world’s premier endurance race takes place 14-15 June.

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