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Nissan Leaf NISMO RC battery-electric race car debuts: Run silent, run green

There's a phrase that's often heard among environmental activists and that's "going off the grid." Nissan, however, wants to turn that phrase on its head by putting an all-electric battery-powered Nissan Leaf race car, the Nissan Leaf NISMO RC, on the starting grid of a race track.

The Nissan Leaf NISMO RC really isn't a race car, if only because there aren't any other cars of its kind to race against. And it's certainly no Nissan Leaf, at least from the standpoint being a standard Nissan Leaf sedan, even a standard Leaf modified for racing.

Instead, Nissan's NISMO performance division took its extensive knowledge in prototype (Le Mans-type) racing to build a pure race car powered by a Nissan Leaf-like powertrain, battery, motor and all, into the Leaf NISMO RC, the last two letter standing, naturally enough, for "race car."
NISMO played design lip service to Nissan Leaf aesthetics, but Leaf RC is all race car, with a carbon-fiber "tub" chassis with the battery pack located in the middle of the car--where a conventional mid-engine race car would put its gasoline-fueled engine. The electric motor and inverter are mounted along with the batteries and, unlike the standard front-drive Nissan Leaf sedan, power the rear wheels. The NISMO RC also utilizes a double-wishbone suspension design front and rear and driver-adjustable brake balance. It rides on 18-inch 6-spoke wheels and P225/40R18 Bridgestone racing tires.

Underlining the differences between the sedan and the racer, the race car has a 3.9-inch shorter wheelbase, is 0.8 inches longer and 6.7 inches wider. And it's much lower, NISMO RC sitting more than a foot (13.8 inches) lower than the production Nissan LEAF. Ground clearance is a track-hugging 2.4 inches, compared to 6.3 inches for the road going car. And, at 2,068 pounds, the race car weighs in at about 40 percent less than the production vehicle.

Like the production Nissan LEAF, the NISMO RC is powered by a lithium-ion battery composed of 48 compact modules and a high-response 80kW AC synchronous motor that generates 107 horsepower and 207 lb-ft of torque. It can be charged up to 80 percent of its full capacity in 30 minutes using the quick charging port located inside the rear cowl. That's not your typical in-and-out pit stop.

But it's not intended to be an endurance racer, at least not in the conventional sense. In preliminary testing the NISMO RC accelerated from 0 to 62 mph in 6.85 seconds and had a top speed of 93 miles per hour. It is expected to have a running time of around 20 minutes under racing conditions.

But it won't be racing. Instead it's a demonstration vehicle, one that Nissan notes has "no tailpipe, no emission of CO2 or other greenhouse gases while being driven, and no exhaust sound."

“There’s a perception among some people that electric vehicles fall on the dull side of the automotive enthusiasm scale – which is certainly not the case with either the production Nissan LEAF or this electrifying Nissan Leaf NISMO RC,” said Carlos Tavares, chairman, Nissan Americas. “Nissan Leaf owners are fully embracing this new world of zero emission technology. We believe the same potential exists in the motorsports world as well, with Nissan proud to be first on the starting grid.”

The Nissan Leaf NISMO RC makes its world debut at the 2011 New York International Auto Show on April 20th, and can be seen--though not heard--in action at a number of races during the 2011 racing season.