Nissan Street Racing Cars
What racing series is this oddity legal for? None. So what do you do with it? We’re not quite sure. You can’t buy one, you can’t rent a ride in one, and you can’t even pay to see one compete. Call it Uncle Ed chained to the hospital bed postop.
Nissan has built eight Leaf RCs to date, ostensibly to test the limits of the Leaf’s powertrain and to show that the car’s technology is versatile. We drove one of them in Dubai, for two laps, in the dark, on a track—the Dubai Autodrome—we’d never seen before. It was educational. It was also weird.
Who knew an electric car could be so loud? You hear everything: The motor whines and the drivetrain whirs, the tires pelt the underside of the carbon-fiber tub with gravel, the air whooshes over the roof. The interior is plain, unfinished carbon-fiber; aside from a center console with a handful of mysterious switches (one is simply an unlabeled rotary knob with a rainbow of colors above it) and an LCD above the wheel, the dash is empty. The headlights work, although they aren’t very bright. Heat pours off the back half of the car, where the one-speed transmission, the driven wheels, and the relocated electric motor live.
The running time on a charge depends largely on talent; an engineer present at the drive told us that “an F1 driver will drain the battery in 20 minutes, but at a press event like this, it’s usually about 40 minutes.” Hard use produces heat, as does charging; a day’s worth of running usually includes several 30-minute “rest” periods to let the batteries cool. (The battery pack can be quick-charged up to 80 percent of its capacity in 30 minutes, but that, too, makes heat, which requires resting or forced-air cooling or both.) /p pstrongIt’s a Race Car, All Right/strong/p pYou can learn only so much about a car in two tentative laps, but here you go: The Leaf RC might not be a full-fledged race car, but it feels an awful lot like one. Turn-in is immediate, the chassis seeming to pivot around a point slightly aft of your spine. The steering is race-car linear and generically direct, loading up gently and progressively in a corner and going a little numb when the front tires slide. The unboosted brakes offer a rock-solid pedal and fantastic feel. Predictable stuff, but still nice./p pEach drive was chaperoned by one of Nissan’s staff drivers; our minder was a Frenchman wearing a green helmet with the word “KERMIT” painted on the side. “You have to be careful, ” he said, “because of the car’s weight and where it carries it—it’ll understeer, understeer, understeer, and then snap into oversteer, the back end kicking out without much warning.” He was right, although the RC isn’t as frightening as that might imply. The most important thing to remember is speed maintenance: With 107 hp, you spend your time ivery /imindful of tire scrub, keeping steering lock to a minimum. Sideways antics effectively park the car, the motor humming valiantly but unable to produce enough grunt to move it forward or carry a drift. Rarely does the whole package generate enough speed between corners to make you ask much of the brakes. /p table border="0" cellpadding="2" cellspacing="0"x">
The biggest question here is, “What comes next?” The obvious answer would seem to be a single-make racing series or some kind of customer program, but Nissan claims the car’s drivetrain needs to evolve before that kind of fun goes down. (Other sources indicate differently, but we’ve yet to hear anything conclusive regarding timing.) In the meantime, the RC serves as a curious glimpse into the future. It’s the first feasible electric track car from a major manufacturer, and even if you can’t buy one, that’s a good thing. In other words, don’t judge Uncle Ed. Just be happy he exists.