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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Nissan's new Leaf is an all-out race car

Nissan's new Leaf is an all-out race car
As with early gas vehicles, company hopes racing circuit will help fine-tuneBy
Larry Edsall 

When Nissan unveiled the Leaf, it said the car would be the first in a series of all-electric vehicles the automaker planned to produce. But who would have expected that the second in that series would be all-out, purpose-built racing cars?

The first of those cars, the Nissan Leaf NISMO RC, made its public debut at the recent New York auto show. Other early prototypes already are being tested on race tracks in Japan.
NISMO is short for NISsan MOtorsports, the automaker's racing department, and RC is short for Racing Competition.

While the Leaf NISMO RC may not look much like the Leafs you see on the road, it shares the same electric propulsion components, and just as in the early days of gasoline-powered cars, competition on the racetrack figures to improve cars and components used on the road.
"Racing improves the breed," said Ron Stukenberg, senior motorsports manager for Nissan North America. "You learn when you're out there pushing at the limit, especially when you're running production components."
To build a racing car around Leaf powertrain components, NISMO not only created a new chassis, but also moved the electric motor and inverter, and rearranged the lithium-ion batteries for a midengine setup that powers the rear wheels.

The car has a racing-style carbon fiber monocoque with a three-piece, two-door body with removable front and rear sections, fixed windows and a driver-adjustable rear wing. Front/rear brake balance also can be adjusted from inside the cockpit. The double-wishbone suspension can be set up for driver style and track configuration.

The NISMO RC is nearly 4 inches shorter in wheelbase than the production Leaf, not quite an inch longer, and is more than 6 inches wider. Its roofline is 13.8 inches lower than the four-door's, and the car sits a mere 2.4 inches above the ground, compared to 6.3 inches for the production version.

The NISMO RC has no gearshift lever, only a toggle switch for forward or reverse. Stukenberg notes that he's raced U.S. Auto Club midgets and they, too, have only one forward gear.
The NISMO RC weighs 2,068 pounds, some 40 percent less than the four-door sedan.
Nissan expects the car to have a top speed of more than 90 miles per hour and to be able to race for 20 minutes on a full charge, which is about the same length of time as many "support" races run on multievent racing weekends.

Nissan will showcase the NISMO RC at racing venues this year and hopes to launch a one-make series in 2012.

One possibility would be three series — one for North and South America; one for Europe, Africa and the Middle East; and another for Asia, with an all-star finale for the top drivers from each geographic region.

Sounds like fun, though "sounds" may be the wrong word. After all, that typically loud race car exhaust blare is one thing these EV racers won't have.

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