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Most if the time, video games and sports cars are two of the more trivial things in life. That said, sometimes it’s those non-productive luxuries that give us the recharge we need to be industrious in our daily grind. Some people draw energy and inspiration from an afternoon spent with a good book or favorite album, others get it from a few hours working a PS4 controller or rowing through a crisp-shifting gearbox.

Competitive gaming and motorsports are getting another boost in legitimacy this summer, as the first has led to a job for some talented virtual racers, and their team’s car is helping pave the way for cleaner, more efficient engines.

When Sony released the first title in its Gran Turismo racing series for the original PlayStation in 1997, its extensive line-up of cars was the first things many gamers noticed. Deep down, though, what truly set the title apart was its commitment to accurately recreating the science of racing, with a simulation so detailed it was practically a substitute for high school physics.

Things have only gotten more realistic with the game’s many sequels, and in 2008, Sony partnered with Nissan to set up the GT Academy. The project’s aim was to see if Gran Turismo’s goal of taking real racing and putting it into a video game could be done in reverse. In other words, would it be possible to use the game to teach the fundamentals of road racing, hold a tournament to find the most talented players, and turn them into professional racers in the real world?

This year, a few graduates of the GT Academy will be getting a chance to shine as they head to France to compete in the most grueling high-speed endurance race in the world, the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

▼ The race venue, Circuit de la Sarthe

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Rules for the day-long race stipulate each car must be driven by a group of at least three drivers, and Nissan will be sending a team comprised of 2008 GT Academy winner Lucas Ordonez, 2012 winner Wolfgand Reip, and veteran Japanese driver Satoshi Motoyama. This year marks the Spanish Ordonez’s fourth consecutive trip to the French endurance race, with his best performance to-date being a second-in-class finish in 2011.

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Fitting for racers from such a high-tech background, the car Nissan is supplying, the ZEOD RC, combines a futuristic look with cutting-edge technology.

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Let’s start with the least impressive bullet point: its engine is a derivative of the one that powers Nissan’s compact SUV/eyesore, the Juke.

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The ZEOD RC’s version has had a few tweaks made to it, though, and the 1.5-liter, three-cylinder engine now pumps out a staggering 400 horsepower. It’s also coupled with an electric motor, which should help give it an edge during the extended race at Le Mans, where fuel-efficiency (and reduced time spent in the pits refueling), is as critical as following the proper racing line.

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In many hybrid racers, the electric motor is used in conjunction with the gas engine, helping to provide stronger acceleration. The ZEOD RC works differently though, as the motor and engine take turns powering the car alone.

▼ The view inside the cockpit

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▼ And the view from the cockpit

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Each car completes hundreds of laps of the circuit during the race. Nissan says that its car’s kinetic energy recovery system, which stores energy when the ZEOD RC is breaking, can fully charge the motor in about 10 laps. Once this is done, the car can complete a full lap running only off the motor, after which it will switch back to the gas engine and continue charging again.

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The starting flag for this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans drops on June 14. The competition continues through the night, and on June 15 we’ll find out whether Nissan’s team stands atop the podium at Le Mans, or whether Hiroshima-based Mazda is still the sole Japanese-constructor with that honor.

Source: Engadget Japan
Top image: YouTube
Insert images: Will Pittenger/Wikimedia, YouTube, Nissan, YouTube (2)