It goes without saying that Nissan has a winner with the Micra Cup car.
There are two schools of thought when it comes to how people like to enjoy their cars. Some enjoy their big horsepower and torque, and some prefer to wring out their smaller vehicles to more-approachable limits. The question really is: would you prefer to drive your fast car, slow? Or would you prefer to drive your slow car, fast? Full disclosure: I am of the latter camp. Driving a slow car fast generally allows you to do so in a safer manner, since average and closing speeds are much lower than with a dedicated sports car. Race cars have traditionally occupied the “high-power” sort of market, but what if I told you there existed a home-grown Canadian spec racing series that emphasized the little guys? Nissan Canada may have something just for you: the Micra Cup.
The Nissan Micra happens to be a Canadian-only sub-compact hatchback that slots in under the Versa Note. Focusing on outright cost, rather than value, allows the Micra to command a base price of $9,988 – the most affordable in Canada as of this writing. This base version doesn’t come with air conditioning, power windows, or power locks. Most people nowadays wouldn’t often choose to subject themselves to this amount of frugality, but when it comes to race cars, Nissan has basically done all the work for you already by stripping out all the parts that you won’t need when you’re building a machine for speed.
By starting with the most affordable version of the Micra, Nissan’s aim is keeping the overall costs as low as possible. The claim to fame here is the creation of the single most affordable new-car motorsport racing series in Canada. The car starts at under $10,000, and the transformation that turns it into a turn-key racecar will bring that up-front cost to about $23,000. So what does $13,000 get you from start to finish? A good portion of that goes towards the entry into the Micra Cup race series. The rest of it goes towards preparing the car: the Micra interior is stripped, a full roll cage, and a racing bucket seat with 5-point harness are bolted in.
A Nismo S-Tune suspension kit, upgraded front brake pads, sticky Pirelli tires on Fast wheels, a free-breathing engine air intake and exhaust are swapped in to supplement the otherwise stock equipment. The stock instrument cluster remains, but a digital instrument cluster sits in front of it, with a more precise digital speedometer, tachometer, lap timer, and coolant temperature read-out. All these cars are built in a shop just outside Montreal, which not only ensures consistency, but prevents individual teams from employing unauthorized modifications. Key fasteners have barcoded seals attached to them which may only be removed with permission.
What’s interesting: the up-rated springs and dampers are essentially just borrowed from the heavier Versa Note, and the Micra Cup race car still retains its stock rear drum brake setup, surprisingly enough. The cooling system is un-touched, as is the rest of the engine – it still produces the same 109hp as the street car, give or take a few, with the breathing modifications. There are the requisite decals and teams are free to show off all the sponsors they pick up along the way – one team has a giant tortoise on the rear hatch. You can see Nissan’s strategy in borrowing hardware from their parts bin, or simply choosing not to upgrade certain items. This not only keeps costs down, but these quirks should make the racing more interesting.
So what does it feel like, in practice? Nissan invited me to the Driver Development Track (DDT) at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park to put the 2016 Nissan Micra Cup Car through its paces. Some would dismiss the 109hp figure as being insufficient, but you’d be mistaken. The light weight of the Micra allows you to really hustle it on the track. It is one of those vehicles that allows you to build your confidence quickly – I only needed about ten minutes or so to get a feel for the car and get re-acquainted with the course.
The low output means you can spend so much more time at full throttle, rather than tip-toeing around during corner exit. The sticky Pirelli slick tires deliver tons of lateral grip for intense road-holding as well as fierce stopping power from the modest braking system. I did notice the brake pads smelling a little tired after my 20-minute session, though.
What I liked the most had to be how approachable the limits were: some corners of Mosport DDT combine some real-time camber change with elevation change, so while it was easy to maintain momentum, you had to be careful of the changing dynamics. The chassis, as simple as it is, was good at communicating that feedback through the steering wheel to my hands, and into my seat. Understeer and oversteer could be easily induced – quickly jerking the wheel into a corner induced some nice rotation along with some off-throttle oversteer.
I was just getting into a great rhythm when my session had to come to an end. I was having so much fun that I almost didn’t notice that I caught up to the journalist in front of me who had started his session several minutes before I did. Getting out of the car with an adrenaline rush (the good kind) is a great feeling. How often does one have the chance to play with some well-prepared race cars on a racetrack? Sure, this race car only has 109hp, but you can bet each and every single one was put to good use.
It goes without saying that Nissan has a winner with the Micra Cup car. On its own, it is a fantastic car, utilizing simple, yet durable components, and a keen eye on details and the pocketbook. What’s even more exciting to me is the idea of two dozen of these little cars duking it out on a racetrack. Door-to-door racing is the level that many motorsports enthusiasts can only dream to be at, and the Nissan Micra Cup makes this so much more accessible, relative to other forms of road racing. Nissan Canada really needs to be commended on this fact. The end goal is to sell more Micras (and Nissans), but the side effect we’re seeing is the fact that an accessible (running costs for an entire season are estimated at $30,000), home-grown, manufacturer-supported spec racing series exists in 2016. You owe it to yourself to check out a Micra Cup race: the action is simply fantastic.
You can get more information on the series, schedule, and news at: www.micracup.com