‘I wish I could have taken part in Le Mans’

We talk to Kozo Watan­abe, the ge­nius be­hind the Sky­line GT-R and Nismo

Motor (Australia) - - NISMO LEGENDS -

What cars in­spired you dur­ing the GT-R’s de­vel­op­ment?

When we de­vel­oped the R32 GT-R, we re­ferred to steer­ing wheel in­for­ma­tion, in­clud­ing tyre rigid­ity (feel or steer­ing pre­ci­sion), from Porsche’s 944 Turbo. But we didn’t re­fer to any other cars from other man­u­fac­tur­ers after that.

Do you have a favourite mod­i­fi­ca­tion that you were able to make dur­ing the de­vel­op­ment of the Sky­line GT-Rs you worked on?

We tried to de­velop a twope­dal setup with Toroidal CVT, but we chose not to as we knew most cus­tomers would tune their en­gines after pur­chase.

The record-break­ing R33 Nord­schleife run re­ally made the rest of the world take no­tice. Were you con­fi­dent you could break the eight­minute bar­rier?

No, I wasn’t cer­tain un­til I saw the lap time mon­i­tor when the car crossed the fin­ish line. With our anal­y­sis, we es­ti­mated we could achieve eight min­utes and two sec­onds at best. I be­lieve the in­vis­i­ble force of the ’Ring strongly pushed our car.

Is it true you con­sid­ered mov­ing to a V6 for the R34?

Yes. The ba­sic con­cept of all the Sky­lines was to de­liver tech­no­log­i­cal in­no­va­tion to cus­tomers. In line with this con­cept, for the R34 we wanted to pro­pose a new Sky­line im­age with front mid-ship lay­out and a V6 en­gine. How­ever, build­ing a V6 en­gine for the Sky­line meant con­struct­ing an ad­di­tional en­gine pro­duc­tion line, which re­quired huge in­vest­ment. After long con­sid­er­a­tion, we were forced to give up.

Can you tell us about your ac­tiv­i­ties at Nismo be­fore you re­tired?

At Nismo, I was a mem­ber of the board and my re­spon­si­bil­i­ties var­ied from mo­tor­sport plan­ning, sales and en­gi­neer­ing. I had a re­ally good time there. I sup­ported the de­vel­op­ment of the R34 Z-tune, and also man­aged the Dakar Rally project that Nis­san Europe par­tic­i­pated in as a works team.

You worked on many dif­fer­ent ve­hi­cles dur­ing your ca­reer but were there any projects that you wished you had worked on?

I am not the kind of per­son who looks back, as I did ev­ery­thing I could do each time. How­ever, I wish I could have taken part in the 2000 Le Mans 24 Hours race and taken over­all vic­tory. We won the Fuji 1000km Race with the Nis­san R391 in 1999 and earned an in­vi­ta­tion to the 2000 Le Mans 24 Hours.

What’s in your garage?

Nis­san Sky­line GT-Rs and a Lo­tus Elan.

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