Welcome to Inquirer Mobility

By Botchi Santos

Nissan Motors Limited’s PR team recently invited select media from all over the world to join a ZOOM session to discuss the brand’s direction in motorsports, how the COVID19 pandemic has put a damper on things, and what the team is doing to keep busy, particularly with Formula E, a discipline Nissan is heavily investing in. Tommaso Volpe, the brand’s recently installed head of global motorsports, as well as former Formula One Grand Prix and now Formula E hot-shoe Sebastian Buemi and his teammate Oliver Rowland joined in for a few minutes of easy and light-hearted conversation.

Nissan is proud to be the sole Japanese manufacturer involved in FIA’s Formula E, entering in the series’ 5th season in 2018/2019. The team finished almost perfectly with Buemi taking second-overall. They had a solid and consistent performance which included six podium finishes, six pole positions and sixteen Super Pole qualifying lap appearances. As the industry scrambles to deliver EVs to private customers, Nissan’s Formula E program casts a nice halo over the Leaf EV, Japan’s most successful EV to date with more than 450,000 units delivered to customers worldwide. The Philippines is also set to get the Leaf EV very soon. Volpe insists that learnings and discoveries in Nissan’s Formula E program will eventually trickle down to the brand’s soon to expand range of EV road cars.

The latest Formula E cars are a technological tour-de-force: a carbon-fiber monocoque chassis weighing 900kg with a maximum power of 250 kilowatts (about 335hp in plain old English). At full-race mode, they output 200 kilowatts to last the length of the race, via tweaking the power management and delivery software. The regenerative braking system can also recover as much as 250 kilowatts of energy, helping charge up the batteries and recover what would otherwise be lost energy. All-in, Formula E cars accelerate to 100km/h in 2.8 seconds with to a top-speed of 280km/h. Racing is close and intense, as Formula E events race in temporary street circuits in city centers worldwide, including glamorous destinations like like New York, Hong Kong and London thus bringing the action closer to the people.

While we don’t hear the traditional aural drama of say, a howling turbocharged RB26 inline-6, or a bellowing VK56 based-V8 used in many of Nissan’s Sportscar GT Racing programs at a Formula E race, there is a sound of a turbine-like whine winding up, building up to a powerful climax as cars hurtle down tight tracks much to the excitement of the crowd. The close proximity of cars to the viewers, and the close racing itself more than makes up for the lack of the noise we expect in racing. Hardware is heavily regulated, helping keep cost low and racing tight. It boils down to set-up, and how the engineers can tweak the software program to deliver the most power the longest during the races.

The COVID19 Pandemic has unfortunately put a stop to international travel and mass gatherings inherent in spectator sports. Thus, Formula E sought a way to keep people interested and focused in the series. Together with UNICEF, Formula E and teams like Nissan started the Race at Home Challenge to help raise funds and awareness for children suffering from COVID19 and as a means to keep the younger generation focused, energized and excited while staying indoors at home and participating or watching the live virtual SIM races online worldwide.

Donations from the competition will be directed by UNICEF to comprehensive emergency projects around the world, such as those contributing to the supply of personal protective equipment for healthcare workers and setting up home learning schemes for children currently out of school.

The ABB Formula E Race at Home Challenge will feature two separate grids running in parallel, one comprised of drivers from the ABB FIA Formula E Championship and the other one filled by some of the fastest gamers and influencers. The winning gamer will make the transition from the gaming world to secure real-life track time on a Formula E circuit during a race weekend.

Drivers and gamers will compete using rFactor 2 simulator software in a number of online events taking place over a nine-week period from the safety of their own homes. It has been a hit with the younger gaming generation, especially as eSports brings people closer together from all over the world, right from the safety of their own homes. This is truly going to be a huge part of the new normal.

But what of Nissan’s more traditional motorsports endeavors? Mr. Volpe was pleased that I asked this question. He assured us, that at least for the next five years, Nissan remains strongly committed to sports car / GT racing, such as Japan’s Super GT, FIA-WEC GT3 / GT4 and similar disciplines. At the grass-roots level, Nissan also has the March / Micra Cup too for those aspiring motorsports enthusiasts who want to take the challenge. Together with cars like the R35 GTR and the Z, Nissan still has platforms that are ripe for the race track. Let’s be thankful the brand remains committed to traditional racing even as they foray heavily into Formula E.

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