‘I wish I could have taken part in Le Mans’
We talk to Kozo Watanabe, the genius behind the Skyline GT-R and Nismo
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.