First-ever all-electric car competes at official SA motorsport event
The whispering whirr of electric mobility punctuated high-octane sounds at the 2018 Jaguar Simola Hillclimb in Knysna
There is an eerie silence as the flag drops at the start line of the 2018 Jaguar Simola Hillclimb held in the picturesque town of Knysna.
A slight whine and a brisk whoosh can be heard if one stands close enough, but other than that, the indistinct noises of the crowd and the commentator’s voice booming through the PA system are all that most people will hear.
The Nismo Leaf RC has just set off on a run up the 1.9km course. It is the first time an all-electric vehicle is competing in a Motorsport South Africa (MSA)-sanctioned event.
Nissan SA have brought the specially built Nismo Leaf RC (for Race Car) version of the Leaf here to showcase what the future holds. The car is powered by the standard Leaf’s 80kW electric motor, but that is basically where the likeness to the standard car ends.Unlike the standard front-wheel drive arrangement in the road-going Leaf, the RC’s motor is positioned in the rear of the car and it drives the rear wheels. Power is sent to sticky semi-slick tyres on a much wider track than the standard road car.
It weighs only 930kg thanks to a completely hand-built aluminium and carbon-fibre tub and body, and it has a full roll-cage to comply with safety regulations.Nissan SA’s product manager, Janus Janse van Rensburg, is tasked to drive it for the weekend. The organisers had to make sure three-phase power was available for the RC’s charging requirements. “I use about 6% power on each run up the hill, and then use the brakes to charge the batteries a bit coming down the hill. We haven’t had to charge the car the whole day so far.” Janse van Rensburg sees the RC top out at 150km/h — its top speed.It pales in comparison to the speeds reached by traditional combustion engine-powered cars that are vying for the coveted King of the Hill title. The overall winner in this year’s shootout, André Bezuidenhout in a Gould GR55, a single-seater built specifically to compete in hillclimb events, averaged over 192km/h from a standing start on his final run and blitzed the hill in 35.528s — a new record.The entry list is limited to 84 cars. The amount of horsepower that lines up is astonishing. Stretched over three categories, the King of the Hill shoutout sees single-seaters, modified saloon cars and road-going cars thrash the throttle for the 1.9km to the finish line on top of the hill.Make no mistake, this is no match for a European hillclimb. The route up the hill is short and fast, but lacks tricky, technical corners. But competition at the sharp end of the field is so tight that if you blink you’ll miss the margin.Wilhelm Baard successfully defended his King of the Hill title in the Modified Saloon Car category with his highly modified Nissan GT-R. Despite clipping a tyre with his front splitter, ripping it and a boost pipe off on the second-to- last corner on his final run, Baard set a record time of 39.461s. It meant he had no boost for the last few hundred metres to the finish line. The Honda-powered Lotus of Charl Joubert finished second, just 0.056 seconds behind Baard!
The road car class saw Reghard Roets defend his title again too. He managed to pilot the stock Nissan GT-R to a time of 44.631s — beating fellow racing driver Dawie Olivier in a Jaguar F-Type SVR to the top spot.
The prospect of electric vehicles becoming a force to be reckoned with is one that excites, but may leave petrolheads with a yearning for yesteryear’s noise and drama. Time will tell what the consensus is. While the future is now, the past is still faster — at least up the hill in Knysna.