Charging down the Mountain
Nismo-honed ‘Godzilla’ returns to Mt Panorama
EVER climbed out of a car and found yourself shaking so much you’re uncertain if it’s adrenalin or just raw emotion?
Two words: Nismo and Bathurst. No longer merely a virtual reality thrill ride for the PlayStation generation, Nissan has unleashed its Nismo brand on Australia, and its first offering is, of course, the GT-R Nismo supercar.
And where to launch it to a pack of salivating motoring journalists? Mount Panorama, Bathurst. Where the Godzilla legend was established in Australia with famous Bathurst 1000 wins in 1991 and ’92.
Nissan Australia had been in town for the Bathurst 12 Hour, and took the opportunity to secure track access to let loose its 441kW, 652Nm twin turbo 3.8-litre V6 monster to the lucky few.
And the track is where this car is needed to even get a sniff of its true abilities.
The GT-R Nismo shares the same pair of high-flow large diameter turbos as the true GT3 race cars churned out by the Nismo dreamworks, and unofficially, this 1740kg bruiser hits 100kmh in 2.7 seconds.
Hence the emotion. And the post-drive shaking.
August last year saw the arrival of the MY17 R35 Nissan GT-R in Australia, offering buyers a $189k GT-R Premium, fancier $195k Premium Luxury and hardcore $227k Track Edition.
The latter features the same track-specific suspension as the new Nismo version, but with this flagship we have the complete works. The mad dog.
Priced at $299,000 it’s a mighty cash leap over the rest of the range, but it still looks cheap when up against the majority of modern supercars with such abilities.
Australian buyers with the finances won’t care a jot about the range-topper’s price hike. This is the must-have model – the one with the Nismo badges – and Australia’s getting an almost unfair slice of the global allocation to satisfy our demand.
For 2017 the GT-R was given something of a luxury makeover, intended to appeal to buyers more keen on the “GT” element. That meant greater refinement and comfort, and a ride that was tolerable enough for everyday use.
The faithful ticked the Track Edition box or have been waiting for this Nismo however; race-tuned suspension and all.
The first element of our test was unleashing the GT-R Nismo on some typically shoddy rural NSW roads around Bathurst, with a dash of wet weather thrown in.
I found if you stay away from big bumps it’s actually quite placid at low speeds. The engine burbles along quietly, the cabin’s well-insulated and by gently massaging the throttle the Nismo knows it’s being asked to behave.
As the road opened up, along with my right foot, the fireworks began.
The instant whack from the engine as the turbos come alive is phenomenal, while the steering is truly razor sharp – immediate response and so incredibly direct it’s practically impossible to miss your turn-in point.
But the motorsport-inspired suspension means if the Nismo meets road imperfections you really feel it through your spine. Yes it can be used as a road car, but pick those journeys and roads carefully.
Pit lane pleaser
Nismo’s released from the boosted V6 an extra 22kW and 20Nm over the rest of the GT-R range, has tuned the suspension with additional roll stiffness, and increased body shell rigidity with adhesive bonding as well as spot welding.
More visible are the body changes, including aero elements like the carbon fibre bootlid, spoiler, bumpers and lower front undercover. Red highlights framing the car’s carbon goodies show that this is the Special One.
Nismo red also adorns the cosy four-seat cabin; the Alcantara-trimmed Recaro front bucket seats being low set, firm and racy.
With carbon fibre elements, red stitching, and Alcantara for the three-spoke steering wheel and dash top, it is a purposeful but luxury-enough interior to match its price tag.
The GT-R Nismo looks truly at home on Mount Panorama. Old friends if you like. There’s mutual respect and a shared history between circuit and car.
Helmet on, seatbelt engaged, driving position adjusted and staring at the imposing GT-R badge on the steering wheel I’m caressing. This is going to be epic.
The first task is the long climb up Mountain Straight. Foot to the floor the response lags for a mere fraction, but on boost and in the fun part of the rev range the Nismo is nothing short of mega. By God, the pull of this thing.
My near-fearless co-driver (race instructor rally champ Cody Crocker) compels me to keep the foot planted over the crest. This takes some courage first time round: we’re already at uber speeds and the Nismo momentarily gets light and my belly does a flip. The GT-R, of course, does not, remaining planted and holding its line perfectly until it darts into position at the tiniest command on the steering wheel.
Brake into Griffins Bend, floor the throttle again and despite the steep incline it’s warp speed once more.
Now the real test. The Cutting at the base of this steepest part of the climb seems barely wider than the GT-R’s fat body, and the concrete walls get frighteningly high.
On the road up to Brock’s Skyline and down through the Esses there is continual need for off and on throttle, light braking, heavy braking and flicking the paddles through the gears.
The GT-R Nismo is almost like a video game through here: get in a nice rhythm and it can seemingly do anything, unfazed by one of the most technical parts of any track in the world.
And you get a quite outrageous, scary, sense of speed with those tight walls closing in on you. Down the Mountain and the 390mm front brakes with six-pot Brembo calipers are worked to the extreme but show little sign of fade
Into the greasy Forrest’s Elbow, open the throttle while the tyres fight for traction, and there’s Conrod Straight.
Boom! The GT-R Nismo unrelentingly builds pace. I nudge the redline with each shift towards the roller-coaster (I last dared look down at 225kmh), and a slight lift before the crest. Belly does a tumble again and my co-driver shows where to set up the car for a slight lift into The Chase.
Over 200kmh into a corner is a special thing indeed. This car is a masterclass of ability, noise and otherworldly grip.
One final sharp turn onto the straight and we’re off again. Another lap of glory and incomparable thrills coming up. I never wanted it to stop.
There was no better place to launch the GT-R Nismo than Bathurst to ensure a lucky group of motoring journos experienced true race engineering genius with a good dose of soul.
To the lucky few who’ll buy a GT-R Nismo in Australia – probably around 30 per year – you have my utmost respect and envy. I just pray to the motorsport gods each gets to experience theirs on this very special Mountain.