A WORLD record might have been broken at last weekend’s LEAF owner event (with a little help from us), but that was by no means the only excitement of the day.
Being whisked downstairs from the main event, Nissan were kind enough to treat our very own Jon Reay to a ride in the LEAF NISMO RC with none other than Nissan GT Academy winner Jann Mardenborough. Here’s what he thought of the experience.
First impressions of the RC are surprising. Although it’s based on the LEAF, the insides are anything but similar. Gone are the comfy, velour-like seats – replaced with hard, lightweight racing specification ones with four-point harnesses.
Don’t expect to see a sat nav either – in fact the whole dash is gone; replaced with a strip of carbon fibre with just a few switches attached. Make no mistake: this isn’t your average LEAF.
Hopping in and introducing himself, Jann quickly explained that this was the first time he’d actually driven the NISMO – reassuring stuff. Getting a quick briefing from a man from Nissan on the basic controls, we headed straight out onto the famous Silverstone Circuit – now increasingly sodden from the day’s heavy rain.
It’s once the car is moving where the differences really become clear. As LEAF owners will know, the standard car is quiet and refined, with little more than a beep to let you know it’s switched on.
The NISMO, on the other hand, is miles away from that sedate experience. Flicking the car to ‘on’, things aren’t as silent as you might expect. Instead, a sort of power-station-like whooshing noise starts to appear from behind – presumably something to do with keeping the batteries cool.
There’s no doubting its speed, though. Jann was taking it relatively easy, but it soon became clear why: it’s not an easy car to keep on the straight and narrow. Around the slippery wet track, the rear of the car jumped out a number of times – needing hasty correction from Jann.
For something designed for the track though, it was surprisingly refined – enough that I could hear Jann liken it to an old Porsche 911 to drive. With so much weight in battery form over the back wheels, it’s easy to understand the comparison.
It’s certainly grippy, though – throwing you from side to side as it eats up corners, you certainly know you’re in a racing car. As it inherits the LEAF’s electric drivetrain, acceleration is smooth and uninterrupted too – all the way up to some pretty reasonable speeds.
It also gets a modified version of the regenerative braking system, as Jann helpfully explained to me. ‘If I flick this switch over to the right’, he demonstrated, ‘the car is always trying to regenerate energy – so when I take my foot off the accelerator it’s almost like braking.’
So just what makes the NISMO RC different from other racing cars? Well, it’s one of a kind. ‘This is one of only about eight in the world’, one of Nissan’s engineers told me. ‘In fact, this one’s going back to Japan soon to have a regulation roll cage fitted.’
In reality, as he explained, there’s nothing wrong with the one installed at the minute – it just needs to be updated. ‘When this was made, there was no rulebook for alternative fuel racing – so we really were on our own with it.’
‘In fact we weren’t really allowed to race – we just had to call it a sort of “demonstration” and get around it like that.’
So does the LEAF NISMO RC live up to expectations? Absolutely. It might be electrically powered, but hop in and it’s just like any other racing car – albeit with a different soundtrack.
It’s a big step for Nissan, and one that might even show us the future of motor racing.