A few years ago, a concept car called the Nissan Leaf Nismo RC was unleashed upon the world, built using stock parts from the then-brand-new production Nissan Leaf.
People thought it was interesting, but it wasn’t taken all that seriously. An electric race car? Cool story, they said, but the internal combustion engine will live forever.
Today, attitudes have changed. Reducing carbon emissions is seen more broadly as a very real concern. There’s a global all-electric open-wheel racing series, a new Nissan Leaf that’s one among a selection of properly livable fully electric daily driving cars, and here we are staring down the tailpipes – wait, sorry, the enormous rear diffuser that’s taken the place of tailpipes – of a second-generation Nissan Leaf Nismo RC that looks ready to take on the world.
And if you live near Toronto, you’ll be able to see it for yourself starting next week at the Canadian International AutoShow. This will mark the first time this car has ever been displayed at a public auto show, and Wheels.ca was invited to take a sneak peek and dig into what makes this all-electric race car tick.
For power, the new Leaf Nismo RC takes the 62 kWh battery and inverters from the Leaf ePlus and hooks those parts up to a pair of 120 kW electric motors, one driving each axle, for a combined total output of 322 hp and 472 lb.-ft. of instantly available torque.
But that’s just the start of the story. By building the car’s entire structure out of carbon fibre – that’s absolutely everything except the motors, suspension components, battery, lights, wheels, cabling, and interior pieces such as the seats and steering wheel – Nissan’s performance division was able to bring the car’s weight down to 1,220 kg or 2,690 lb.
This power-to-weight ratio allows the car to go from zero to 100 km/h in 3.4 seconds, a full 50 percent faster than the first-generation Leaf Nismo RC.
The battery is mounted transversally just behind the cockpit to centre it on the chassis, and the front and rear ends of the car are designed to be interchangeable mirror images of one another. This all comes together to very naturally achieve a near-perfect 50-50 front-to-rear weight distribution. The nature of electric drivetrain components means that everything sits close to the ground for a remarkably low centre of gravity.
And if you look closely, you’ll notice that it’s right-hand drive. It was built in Japan, after all.
Why put in this much effort? Essentially, it’s because Nissan has joined the all-electric Formula E racing series as its first Japanese manufacturer, and Nismo’s engineers are keen to show off what they’ve learned.
“It’s a reflection of our commitment within Formula E,” says Michael Carcamo. Nissan’s global director of motorsport. “It’s more for us about how exciting this can be and what possibilities exist.
“The first (Leaf Nismo RC) was maybe more blue sky, but the second-generation car is really pushing the boundaries.”
Carcamo says that the purpose of the second-generation car is two-pronged: to demonstrate what real components used in the production Leaf are capable of, and to apply what the brand has learned so far in Formula E that’s unique to electric powertrain development.
“What went into putting that together, the assembly of the car itself and how we control the car, meaning both motors and the cooling performance of the battery, that has a lot to do with what we’ve learned already in Formula E,” Carcamo says. “One of the things we don’t focus on or realize in electric vehicles is that hardware is only half the story. Software becomes a critical component of the system.
“In a standard car, software is used only to deliver, for example, fuel use and ignition. It’s a response to a request. But in an electric vehicle, software is used to manage the entire delivery of the power you’re going to receive, whether it’s only using one motor or being able to select using two motors, and then how we distribute the power front to rear, how we control vehicle dynamics due to the control.
“We can have very precise control of how the car behaves using this two-motor architecture, so the control system to enable that is much more complex and is really adaptive.”
Six of these cars have been built and are making the rounds worldwide: this one here in Canada, another in the United States, two in Japan, and two in Europe.
Will we ever see more? How easy would these be to reproduce? What if someone wanted to start up a single-make electric racing series, or even if competition started to arrive and there was a market for an electric equivalent of sports car racing?
“Money talks,” Carcamo says. “If someone brings me a chequebook, I will build as many as they want.
“We knew that these were going to be interesting. We went about building six for that reason. So, yes, we’d gladly take on any interest for such a project.”
Realistically, these ideas are a few years off at minimum. But for now, Carcamo sees the Leaf Nismo RC as crossing over an important gap between what Formula E racing is trying to achieve and making it relatable to real-world drivers.
“It’s really, for us, a bridge between what is a production car, the new Leaf and Nismo Leaf, and then you have the Leaf Nismo RC, and then you have Formula E,” Carcamo says. “It really creates a bridge between those two worlds. Where most people will never have a chance to drive a Formula E car, the Leaf Nismo RC is a real-world race car here today.”
If you live in Toronto, that statement can be taken literally. See it for yourself at the Canadian International AutoShow, which opens at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre next Friday, February 15, and runs for 10 days until it closes on Sunday, February 24.
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