One day. One place. One chance. Nissan GT-R around Phillip Island.
When it comes to iconic sportscars, there are not all that many that have endured the test of time, but the Nissan GT-R (formerly known as the Nissan Skyline GT-R) is one such car.
Most of us may still remember the original Skyline GT-R, or the R32 GT-R as it’s generally referred to, but the history of the badge goes much further back than that. All the way back to 1969 in fact with the PGC10 (the original Nissan GT-R) followed by the KPGC110 (pictured below).
Nissan is now without a doubt manufacturing the best Japanese affordable supercar, but it once had to contest with the likes of Honda and Mitsubishi (NSX, GTO-GT3000). These days it appears as though its Japanese rivals have all but bowed in defeat (excluding the Lexus LFA which is considerably more expensive).
Before we get started, it's worth taking a quick look at the GT-R's recent history. Back in 1999 Nissan was in serious financial trouble and it took no other than Carlos Ghosn to turn the company around. Initially the restructuring plan saw thousands of jobs cut and factories closed down, it also meant an end to the GT-R project. Fast-forward a decade and it was Ghosn himself who gave the green light to the new R35 Nissan GT-R.
Nissan decided to build the new GT-R in a time when its Japanese rivals were focusing on volume rather than branding and the gamble proved to be a major success, lifting the Nissan brand to an entirely new level amongst car enthusiasts. Nissan’s ambitions to beat Porsche around it’s own test track at Nurburgring proved to be the clincher. 7:27.7 is the claimed lap time (one which has been disputed by Porsche).
Despite what Porsche likes to claim, since its introduction over two years ago the Nissan GT-R has won 66 awards, a lot more than there is space here to list. Some notable awards include car of the year by Top Gear, Automobile Magazine, Evo Magazine, Motor Trend and more.
It has also beaten pretty much every supercar in numerous independent tests around numerous race tracks. So then, what does Nissan Australia do to celebrate the model year 2010 of the famous GT-R. Book out Phillip Island and bring over the GT-R’s grandfather and chief engineer, Kazutoshi Mizuno and the man who set the Nurburgring record, Nissan’s main test driver and ‘Ring expert, Toshio Suzuki. What a day!
The event was open to current Nissan GT-R owners (R35) and selected Media. Some owners had travelled all the way from Perth just to meet Mr Mizuno.
Before we began, Mr Mizuno went through the history and development of the current model GT-R.
The Grandfather of the Nissan GT-R believes that his car must "grow up every year" to evolve and keep ahead of the competition. The chief engineer has had many years developing and building Group C racing cars and applies his extensive knowledge to the GT-R project.
According to Mizuno the most important factor of the GT-R development was tyre grip force. So much so that the GT-R was first conceptualised without a specific type of engine so the engineers could work out maximum tyre grip load. Only once that was determined was engine specification finalised. Mr Mizuno says he can't understand why some supercar makers decide on the engine first, then work out the rest.
When asked why the Nissan GT-R is "so heavy"? The former racing driver said the car was developed as a customer car, not a professional racing driver car. The idea being to make a supercar for "anywhere, anytime, anyone". He believes if they GT-R was any lighter it would not be as easy to drive for everyone.
Coordinating the day was TopGear Australia host (and former Porsche driving instructor) Steve Pizzati alongside numerous current V8 supercar drivers and other skilled instructors.
Stage one of the day involved a warm up exercise around Phillip Island accompanied by an instructor.
This meant accelerating out of pitlane, conducting a braking exercise before turn one and hammering through a series of witches hats before pulling back in. The idea? Getting used to the car.
When you first step into a GT-R it may take a few seconds to get used to the cabin design. Previous GT-Rs have always been known for being a bit 'geeky' in complexity and the R35 is no different. The central computer allows you to pretty change any setting in the car from boost to the driving feel and everything in between. Of course you can just simply get in, select a mode and drive.
Driving a Nissan GT-R is similar to driving a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution or Subaru WRX STI, except that it’s powered by a 3.8-litre twin turbo V6 VR38DETT engine delivering (a ridiculous) 357kW and 588Nm of torque. That means it goes significantly faster than its cheaper Japanese rivals but also handles better (figure that one out). What really sets it apart is the 0-100km/h time of around the 3.5 second mark (can go down as low as 3.2 seconds with the risk of damaging the transmission) - this puts the GT-R in the same league as Ferraris, Lamborghinis and other European supercars worth considerably more coin.
For those of you wondering how a 3.8-litre twin turbo V6 can get such impressive figures, one of the secret is high combustion temperature. Mr Mizuno said whilst most cars have a combustion temperature of 800-850 degrees, the Nissan GT-R is around the 1,110 degree mark. "High temperature, small space, big bang". The engine is able to take the higher combustion temperatures thanks to a plasma coating technique.
There are only 12 engine development platforms at the Nissan GT-R assembly plant in Tochigi, Japan. Each one builds the entire engine from the ground up. Currently the Japanese company can only produce about 1,000 units per month.That also helps make the GT-R as exclusive as a mass produced Nissan can be.
If you’ve never seen a new R35 GT-R on the road before, the pictures simply don’t do it any justice. The car stands out like a robot from the Gundam series and exudes that “wow” factor. Not because it’s beautiful like an Italian supercar, or because it sounds like an Aston Martin V8 Vantage, more so because it doesn’t need to. Everyone that knows anything about cars, knows the GT-R as the king of the road.
V8s tremble in fear, the likes of Evolutions and STIs quickly shy away and Porsche drivers all of sudden feel the need to prove themselves (when they’ve never had to in the past).
Despite being the king of the road, the GT-R is arguably also the king of the racetrack. Having attended numerous track days with Stokell motorsport, I can tell you that out of all the exotic cars that show up (including Gallardos, 911 GT3 RS, 911 Turbo, F430s etc..) the new Nissan GT-Rs are the ones pushing the hardest.
Talking to Porsche 911 Turbo and GT3 RS owners and those that own new Nissan GT-Rs, it doesn't take long to realise both groups are a happy bunch of owners. Some Porsche owners have defected whilst the purists have stayed and can argue with you all-day-long why spending two times (or more) the cash on an equivalent Porsche is the way to go (and for them, they may be right).
Speaking to numerous GT-R owners, the downside to the GT-R’s extremely good performance on the track appears to be the maintenance costs. Be it transmission oil, brake rotors, pads, or God forbid the infamous transmission issues (which seem to have all been resolved). The GT-R is a supercar for the everyday driver which when pushed to its limits, requires some TLC.
Although the Nissan GT-R is factory-guaranteed for 100,000 km, Mr Mizuno believes that the transmission, clutch and engine should all last to around 200,000 km. Unlike previous Nissan Skyline GT-Rs that have been relatively easy to work on, one has to wonder in 10 years time how your local mechanic can perform an engine rebuild, plasma coating and all?
If you're looking at buying one, don't spend your time thinking about "what-ifs" because that's not the point. The fact of the matter is, the Nissan GT-R is by all means the best bang-for-your-buck supercar in history.
Despite the tremendous effort the folks at Nissan Australia put into setting up the day, the weather-God blessed us with heavy rain and freezing temperatures. Not that it was going to stop us from conquering Phillip Island in the best supercar Japan has to offer. So then, it was time.
A quick hello to the instructor was followed by a minor adjustment to the driver's seat.The transmission was engaged and we were away. It's hard to feel as though you're in a car that can beat a Lamborghini Gallardo or Ferrari F430 around a track, because it's so damn easy to drive.
Flatten the accelerator and the GT-R forces you back into the seat, but it's much quicker than it feels. The rain had made Phillip Island race circuit so wet that keeping your foot on the accelerator into a corner was essential to maintain grip. The potential for a massive overstear was painfully evident around each turn.
Having driven a Gallardo Superleggera, F430 Scuderia and numerous Porsches, the experience behind the wheel of a GT-R is far more conventional compared to its European rivals. It's relatively similar to playing Gran Turismon 5, except if anything goes wrong there is no replay function. Turn the wheel, point and the GT-R will simply follow your command, when Mr Mizuno said the car was made for anyone, anywhere, anytime, he wasn't kidding.
If left on, the GT-R's traction control system is quick to kick in and be somewhat intrusive on a wet race track (but a life saver in every other on-road scenario). Once turned off the GT-R turns into the animal that it really is. It will comfortably slide out around corners and can perform some truly inspiring power slides.
Despite its easiness to drive and its ability to make a regular joe look like Lewis Hamilton, the GT-R does respond well when driven hard by a skilled driver. For that, we handed the keys over to Nissan's tamed racing driver. Some say he beat Porsche's lap record around the Nurburgring in a Nissan GT-R, all we know is, he is called Toshio Suzuki.
It's interesting when you get into a supercar with a famous racing-driver who's wearing a full racesuit, fire-retardent gear and every other safety equipment you can think of, whilst you're sitting there in your wet jeans and a t-shirt with the only safety gear being a borrowed helmet. Frankly, it didn't matter, I would've sat in the passenger seat in my boxers holding on to a live grenade, if that's what it took to get a hotlap with Toshio Suzuki.
My first words to him were "Hi, it's an honour to meet you, please don't hesitate to go quickly - I am all in" - he looked across and smiled "no problem". From then on it was a case of holding on to my seat and thinking "Dear God, how can you possibly go around this corner at this speed in torrential rain". It always takes a proper ex-Formula 1 racing driver to remind you just how pathetic you really are as a race-driver.
On our first lap Mr Suzuki hammered along at full pace, taking corners beautifully and smoothly. From this I gained the realisation that the GT-R is an absolutely ridiculous car in the wet. It will hold on to the road and defy all laws of physics in the right hands. I would love to put the transport minister of every state next to Mr Suzuki for a hotlap.
Second lap was yet another surprise, given Phillip Island had turned into a skid pan, some drifting was in order. Perhaps some of you read my recent Drift School article (conducted in Nissan 200SX), but appreciating the art in a Nissan GT-R was a little different. Given its all-wheel-drive system the GT-R doesn't so much as drift as it power slides. Going around turns at Phillip Island sideways is an experience worth remembering.
Coming out of turn two, Suzuki managed to hold his GT-R sliding sideways for what seemed a good five seconds. Very quickly the most depressing feeling set in, because despite going sideways, he was still going quicker around the track than any one of us trying to go fast.
It's actually rather hard to criticize the GT-R. Porsche's claim to fame has always been creating practical cars that are also track weapons. The 911 turbo is the perfect example, quick as hell, but also capable of long journeys and trips to the supermarket, but so is the Nissan GT-R - but it's quicker.
It goes like a supercar, it handles like a supercar, it performs like a supercar, yet it's as comfortable as a normal everyday car to take to the shops. It has enough boot space to easily fit the week's groceries and it's comfortable enough to drive all the way from Brisbane to Sydney. Really, what's not to like?
You may think I am simply praising the GT-R because I can, or because I like Nissan. Not so. There are not many cars that I would consider owning, but the GT-R is certainly one of them. It's truly, for a lack of a better word, epic.
For the new 2010-2011 model year revisions. The Nissan GT-R has gained a revised navigation system, retuned suspension settings (a more quality ride but still hard enough for track usage) and an improved-flow catalyst.
The suspension updates mean the damping force of the shock absorbers (rebound stroke and spring rate) have been adjusted for better steering stability and ride comfort.
The rear suspension radius rod bushings has been strengthened and the GT-R has undergone a new wheel alignment settings.
In more detail, the satellite navigation system is now HDD-based, meaning it will come through the 7-inch digital display. It also includes a new data logging function (Nissan's famous GPS based speed limiter system that will disable the speed limiter when you're at a racetrack is not available in Australia as all Nissan delivered GT-Rs are not speed limited here).
Additional new features include automatic headlamps and speed-sensing windscreen wipers as well as Bluetooth audio connectivity and a USB port with iPod/iPhone/iPad support.
Nissan says the rear diffusers now comes with cooling ducts, a feature previously available only on the GT-R SpecV (not offered in Australia) whilst the 2010 Nissan GT-R benefits from improved low-and mid-range engine response as a result of new hexagonal meshed catalyst cells which help reduce airflow resistance within the twin system exhaust. To improve transmission cooling, a larger-diameter coolant pipe has also been installed.
If I had to sum it all up in once sentence. The Nissan GT-R is the best affordable supercar in the world.
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