By on November 6, 2011

A lot of us have never been in a Nissan Leaf. But what about a battery operated Nissan Leaf Nismo race car? Chances are slim: Only eight of them have been (hand) built so far. Yesterday, I was in one of the few.

I was chauffeured around Nissan’s Oppama test track by Tsuigo Matsuda, who also had attempted to scare me in a GT-R. This time, the experience was electro-visceral: The immediate torque of the transmission-less racer slams you into the bucket seats as if a giant fist hits you. There is something else: The lack of roar. The motors emit an infernal high-pitched whine, but it is never loud enough to drown out an intercom-less chat with the driver as he manhandles that car through the turns. You can even hear the gravel being catapulted by the tires into the carbon fiber.

The Leaf Nismo shares the same powertrain and battery as the Leaf. The difference comes from a rigorous diet: The Leaf Nismo has a full carbon fiber monocoque body that reduced the already lithe 1,520 kg of the Leaf down to 925 kg. The weight to power ratio jumps to 11.56 kg / kW. Every Newton meter of torque only needs to propel 3.3 kg.  Those specs were severely degraded by my presence in the passenger seat.

The current racer definitely isn’t suited for the 24 hours of Le Mans. Driven racing style, the battery is depleted in about 30 minutes. Even on a quickcharger, the Leaf Nismo needs another 30 minutes to recharge. Any fantasies of Better Place style battery swapping in the pits are quickly dispelled by comments that changing the battery takes an hour, 30 minutes if two guys work real fast. Any way you do it, be prepared for half hour pitstops.

Also, hot laps make the car run hot. Walking behind the shed, I see the Leaf Nismo on a quickcharger, connected by four humongous hoses. “Wow, that’s cabling for serious amps,” says I.  “Those are airconditioner hoses,” explain the techs. They are used to cool the midship inverter, positioned right behind the seats.

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12 Comments on “Capsule Review: Nissan Leaf Nismo RC...”

  • avatar

    Some years back my son wanted to get into the world of RC cars. I got him a car for Xmas and we went and watched several races at the local walmart parking lot. Same basic story (also discussed in detail in many of the RC magazines). Gas powered cars (well, nitro) could run all day. You’d run a heat, let it cool for several minutes, re-fuel, and run another heat. Time after time.

    The battery guys would run a heat, swap to their spare battery pack, let it cool, run another heat, and be done for the day.

    Thing was, the battery cars were every bit as fast as the nitro cars. And I think easy to build and keep running. (Personal experience, tuning a white-hot nitro engine is a pain in the ass). They just didn’t have the all day endurance.

    No surprise the full size cars are the same.

  • avatar

    “infernal high-pitched whine”… indeed. That thing sounds like a jetliner taxiing in the runway, but never quite taking off.

  • avatar

    Could you imagine a spec Nismo Leaf race series? 20 minute heats, with some of the wildest drafting and momentum conservation ever seen on a track. I love that Nissan developed a competition version, I think racing had a major part in improving the viability of the internal combustion engine auto in it’s early years, and could do the same for ev’s. (first on the list is probably a quick change battery pack)

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      Another big plus to electric racing is the altitude indifferent nature of the motors: you’re getting the same max torque at 7000 ft as you are at sea level, which cannot be said for NA engines. Forced induction power adders counteract these losses to some extent, but there is still some power decrease associated with the ambient pressure change.

  • avatar
    healthy skeptic

    I’m amazed the carbon fibre monocoque cut the weight by a third. I’d think to achieve that kind of weight loss, they must have taken additional measures. Are car bodies really that much percentage of the total weight of a car?

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    I guess this means Gran Turismo 6 will feature 60 versions of the Leaf.

  • avatar

    Just to make the potential of this car easier to grasp for those of us raised on english units of measure, the Leaf Nismo RC weighs 2,035 lbs and has 110 hp. 18.5 lbs/hp isn’t unbearable for a road car, but it isn’t a high performance figure either. A Honda Civic EX rates 19.4 lbs/hp, a Civic Si about 14.3 lbs/hp. High performance sports cars are well, and I mean WELL, under 10 lbs/hp these days. The ZR1 Corvette is somewhere around 5.5 lbs/hp.

    • 0 avatar

      Sure, but does the corvette make 100% torque at 0 rpm?

      We may need a new standard for thinking about power per unit weight when considering electric cars. Peak hp doesn’t really capture it that well. Kinda like comparing V-twin and inline 4 sports motorcycles. The inline 4’s do tend to be faster, but not by as much as the power:weight comparison would suggest.

      • 0 avatar

        Sure, but does the corvette make 100% torque at 0 rpm?

        No, but then you’d never be below 5000 rpm on the track anyway except where you’re traction limited in first and second, even with the excessively tall street gearing. So you have at least 440 hp available in a Z06 at all times that you’d be able to hook that much power up. With a racing transmission, you’d probably barely ever need to go below 6000 rpm, if at all.

    • 0 avatar

      Not to mention the fact that x* torque at zero rpm means absolutely zero work done.

      *no matter how ridiculously big a number x is…

  • avatar

    More electric racing car articles, please! Very interesting.

    Is that the first time the guy drove it on that track or what? I almost felt like I could have done better….

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