Published September 10, 2012
By Jeff Cobb
Last weekend at Japan’s Sportsland Sugo circuit, Nissan’s Leaf Nismo RC placed second behind a much more powerful Tesla Roadster at the Sugo 50km EV race.
The racing team used the same motor, battery and inverter from a stock Leaf for the Sept. 2 event, but shed and redistributed weight as much as possible to make the purpose-built racer competitive.
In stock form, a Leaf is a front-wheel-drive car with the motor located under the hood, but the Nismo Leaf is rear-wheel-drive with the motor and inverter rear mounted and battery placed closer to midway between the two axles yielding better balance and acceleration.
Also designed-in are safety features to prevent the driver or corner workers and service personnel from being shocked by the high-voltage system should a crash occur.
The 14-lap, 50 km (32 mile) race saw the 24-kwh battery equipped Nissan give up just 9.777 seconds at the finish to the over-50-kwh Tesla with its also-larger motor, whereas some other competitors were utterly lapped in the sprint.
Electric vehicle racing promises excitement, and we do see impressive speed and performance barriers being broken, although with regard to range, it might be noted that there are human foot races that go as far as 50 kilometers, so this was anything but an endurance contest.
In this case fast and furious came in bite sized chunks, but it was as much an experiment for Nissan as anything, and the automaker was gratified its under-powered converted commuter could do so well against a Tesla sports car.
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“It was very difficult to lower the consumption of electricity, even though I was mindful of saving energy,” said Nismo driver, Tsugio Matsuda. “Tesla’s speed on the straights was much higher than we anticipated.”
The Nismo race team members were also refreshingly forthright about their overall competitiveness, saying they hope to be more competitive as development continues.