Friday, March 31, 2017

Nismo Works Special - S2 & R2 Engines Explained

Lately I have been receiving quite a few messages on the Facebook page inquiring about Nismo works engines, especially the S2 and R2 power-units as well as their predecessors, S1 and R1. There are a lot of myths and incorrect information floating around, so I thought it would be worth shedding some light. Both available for the BNR32, BCNR33 and BNR34, these engines represent Nismo latest offer for RB26 powered Skyline GT-Rs and are engineered following different philosophies.


Developed with road use in mind, the S2 concept is Nismo answer to owners looking for fine street balance and enough performance to enjoy the occasional track day. Based on the older S1 Concept, Nismo went on and refined certain areas, especially in the torque department. Let's go with order: the S1 package is a hand-assembled unit usually based on a overhauled version of the owners current engine; while it is no longer for sale (replaced by the S2), its engineering concept is still used as a base for the newer version. The block is the RB26 OEM standard model: based on conditions and mileage, technicians would decide whether it needs replacing or not. Further my conversations with Nismo staff, unless your motor has less than 20,000km, given the age these cars have reached, they will likely advise to replace the block regardless of its state, mostly for warranty reasons (the engine comes with 1 year or 10,000km coverage). First step in the overhauling process is replacing the following parts with new OEM standard ones:

- Engine block: OEM - Standard (optional)
- Main bearings: OEM - Standard
- Conrod bearing: OEM - Standard
- Water pump: OEM - Standard
- Crank pulley & bolts: OEM - Standard
- Turbochargers: OEM - Standard
- Turbo outlet: OEM - Standard
- Engine gasket: OEM - Standard (overhauled)

The second step consists in upgrading the following part list to a higher spec:

- Pistons: N1 Version
- Piston rings: N1 Version
- Oil pump: N1 Version
- Timing belt: Nismo reinforced
- Oil pan baffle plate: Nismo
- Air filter: Nismo
- Spark plugs: Nismo racing type #7
- Heat-shield tape: Nismo 50mm

The end result of the workflow so far is the older S1 engine concept. The S2 represents the natural evolution of its predecessor and Nismo focused on modernizing certain areas by adding the following parts:

- Fuel injectors: R35 GT-R - Nissan OEM 570cc
- Fuel delivery pipe: Nismo R35 conversion 
- Camshaft: Nismo S2
- Head gasket: Nismo 0.9mm
- ECM: Nismo S2
- Engine cover: Nismo S2 exclusive

A point worth noticing is that, in case the engine is developed for a BNR32 or BCNR33, the turbos would be upgraded to BNR34 OEM Standard with ceramic internals, aiming to improve torque response from low/mid speed ranges.

The camshaft is also specifically designed to balance street-driving smoothness and torque delivery.

The dedicated ECM is tuned to implement the changes brought by the R35 fuel injectors, the new camshaft and bring all together by sharpening the acceleration response. Additionally, Nismo fine-tuned the unit to improve fuel efficiency, expecting S2 owners to spend more time on the road than on track.

Thanks to this upgrades and parts specifically developed for the S2 concept, the engine develops a characteristic linear torque band that makes it easier to use on the street. Below a comparative power/torque graph between S2, S1 and RB26 DETT Standard engines. 

Nismo focused on improving pick-up and response compared to the S1 model, aiming to improve track performance. Final power figures are 450ps and 45kg-m of torque.


Like the S2, the R2 engine is the natural evolution of its older brother, the R1 Concept. As the name suggest, this power-unit is Nismo response to owners who enjoy tracking their car on a more regular basis. Nismo philosophy is based on a fine tuned balance between power, responsiveness and durability/reliability; while the R2 may pale in front of 700ps + set-ups from other tuners, the engineers wanted to create an engine that would allow owners to put their ride through their pace on the track and then drive back home with peace of mind. 

The list of differences between S2 and R2 is noticeable and quite long. Let's start with the R1 Concept base:

- Engine block: N1 Version
- Pistons: N1 Version
- Piston rings: N1 Version
- Exhaust manifold: N1 Version
- Main bearings: Nismo
- Conrod bearing: Nismo
- Head gasket: Nismo 0.9mm
- Engine gasket kit: OEM - Standard
- Spark plugs: Nismo racing type #8
- Turbochargers: Nismo R1 turbo kit
- Turbo outlet: Nismo large capacity type
- Heath-shield tape: Nismo 50mm
- Air flow meter: Nismo large capacity type 
- Oil pump: Nismo reinforced
- Oil pan baffle plate: Nismo
- Air filter: Nismo
- Timing belt: Nismo reinforced
- Exhaust manifold spacer: Nismo

As you can see almost everything is replaced with brand new Nismo parts. Amongst the most noticeable difference is worth noticing the presence of the N1 engine block, the same model originally mounted on the BNR34 Nür spec.

The N1 block is significantly stronger than the Standard one and has been extensively tested during racing in both the Super Taikyu series and the Nürburgring 24h.

The second component that stands out is the R1 turbo kit.

This kit is based on the N1 model with metal internals (instead of ceramic). Made by Garrett, they develop slightly more turbo-lag in favor of higher durability. However, Nismo took things a step further in developing the R1 kit and fitted the N1 base model with higher capacity ball bearings and reinforced actuator attachments to create an even more durable set-up.

The final step to finish the conversion to R2 is the same as the one for S2, but just with a different, dedicated camshaft and ECM unit. 

- Fuel injectors: R35 GT-R - Nissan OEM 570cc
- Fuel delivery pipe: Nismo R35 conversion 
- Camshaft: Nismo R2
- ECM: Nismo R2
- Engine cover: Nismo R2 exclusive

Completely hand-built, Nismo takes pride in assembling the R2 units with a very high degree of precision, aiming to optimal internal crank and pulley balance to deliver aggressive acceleration and peak torque response at lower revs.

Final power figures are 500ps and 48kg-m of torque. 

Nismo engines are not necessarily the most powerful and definitely come with high price tags, but when it comes to total package, balance and pedigree deeply rooted into racing, they are probably the best choice. What they lack in terms of neck-bending power figures, they compensate with OEM quality components, factory pedigree and reliability. With Nismo being an expensive option, it's quite rare to see models with these engines fitted to customer cars. The only tuner that, in my eyes, can compete in terms of allure is Mine's. 

Back in the days Nismo raced a Z-tune prototype at Nismo Festival in a Tuners Battle against all the major names (including MCR and Top Secret) and scored a win in 2000 and a third place in 2001, demonstrating that they can be well at the top both on the road and track.

Until next time.

(Photos Copyright: Nismo)

Monday, March 27, 2017

Fuji Speedway, Snow and a Taste of Japan

Sunday was the perfect example of how sometimes the more you plan, the more things won't go your way. I woke up nice and early, destination Fuji Speedway for the last Super GT test session before the season start. Test runs are great: you have free access to every area of the circuit, including the paddock and the pits, and you can get really close to the cars, all minus the massive crowds typical of race events. We hit the road under some mild showers, with forecasts reassuring us that things would clear up by mid morning. But the closer we got to Shizuoka prefecture (where Fuji is located), the more we realized that our day wasn't going as planned: showers became proper rain, and once in Gotemba, rain turned into snow! By the time we reached Fuji Speedway we were greeted by this view

A quick look around and the announcers quickly confirmed what we had already figured out: both test sessions got canceled and no car was going to hit the track. The organizers did their best to come up with some alternatives, like talk shows and interviews from the pits, but with the cars tucked away and no action going on we decided to leave.

Gotemba is a great area for onsen (Japanese hot springs), so we opted for spending the rest of the day relaxing here.

Quite a different alternative from the original plan, but not bad at all!

Sometimes you just have to make the most out of the circumstances.

We surely did.

Until next time.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Back on the Road - Shaken and Refresh

After a few weeks of wait I have finally got my BNR34 back with shaken passed! It's been a while so, let's make a step back...

For those of you who don't live in Japan, shaken is the Japanese roadworthiness test that every car must undertake every two years in order to circulate on public roads. Step one: I had to bring the car to Nismo, where I left it in good company (as always).

The checklist includes bodywork, tire alignment, emission, speedometer, brakes, headlights and an undercarriage/suspension check. 
Given that my car is completely stock I had full confidence that it would pass the tests with flying colors, but this is a bit of a nightmare if your car is tuned as many mods are considered not compliant. The inspectors are pretty strict and many owners have to revert their cars to factory standards in order to pass the test, and then re-fit their suspension or muffler set-ups once they are done.
Shaken workflow
This is a neat way for the government to avoid accidents due to poor maintenance, keep illegal mods in check and stash quite a bit of money in their pockets, given the hefty pricetag they charge for what is nothing more than a basic check. However, if you are looking to buy a used Japanese car, the presence of a valid, non expired shaken is a good signal that the car has been on the road and well cared for.

Since I had to leave the car at Nismo for a few weeks, I also thought I'd use the opportunity to refresh a few bits.

From previous inspections, Yamada-san recommended replacing the air filter with a new one - my choice went for a Nismo Sports one.

The other part that needed replacing was the battery: my trusted OEM Pitwork battery was 2 years old and clearly at the end of its life. Given the increasing value of the car I only drive it on specific occasions, which means that, so far, I had to take it for a little spin just to prevent the battery from dying.
My old OEM battery
Following my friend Aki and Yamazaki-san's recommendation I went for an Optima "Yellow Top" battery: much bigger than the standard one, the difference is night and day and the car starts right away with no hesitation. Key features of the Optima include higher cranking power, longer life, stronger vibration resistance, faster recharging and much higher number of discharge/recharge cycles.
Copyright: Optima Batteries
I also had Yamada-san installing a killer switch that allows to easily disconnect it and avoid useless battery drainage when I'm not using the car for prolonged time. A brake fluid change completed the menu and, as always, I had Yamada-san looking at the car, just in case. So, after a few weeks of wait, here it is!

Shaken valid until February 2019.

And a very interesting BNR32, custom painted in Lightning Yellow sitting closeby.

Just before I was about to leave a BNR32 with a Fine Spec Engine Final Edition pulled over.

Very clean.

I couldn't resist...

Followed by a Pearl White BNR34 M-spec Nür!

I finally jumped in the car and happily drove back home through Tokyo traffic: not what the GT-R was designed for, but driving through the city at night is always special.

I promised myself I'll get the car checked every 6 months at Nismo and, so far, I am on track; having the car looked after by experts is a great feeling and gives me peace of mind that is in great shape.

Until next time.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Attack - Tsukuba 2017

Tsukuba Circuit: hours spent watching Best Motoring battles and even more hours spent lapping it on Gran Turismo, memorizing the simple yet tricky layout of one of Japan's most famous racetracks.

I can't believe that, despite this being my 10th year in Japan, l managed to make my first visit just last week, but better late than never. With the time attack season coming to an end, Attack 2017 took stage at Tsukuba on a pretty spectacular Saturday morning; not bad for a first visit.

My first impression of the circuit is that it's actually smaller than I imagined; I guess proportions looked different on low-res videos back in the mid 2000's, but you can literally walk from the main stands to the back straight in a matter of minutes.

The second thing that hit me right away is how the event was completely open to the public. I love being trackside, but in larger events like Super GT the Japanese obsession for order and control make it impossible to get really close to the action and the cars. Not this time.

Attack is an event purely dedicated to amateurs with no factory-backed cars. Some of the bigger teams managed to recruit pro drivers like Nobuteru "Nob" Taniguchi, but everything else is far from being professional level. 

But don't let the amateur spirit of the event fool you: some of the cars in the top class are able to clock times in the 53 seconds mark, not too far from the record that Keiichi Tsuchiya set in the JGTC ARTA NSX many years ago.

As much as budget allow, teams try their best to leave no stones unturned when it comes to extracting the last bit of performances.

The pit area is literally open for everybody to walk around and, as long as you pay attention and are mindful of not getting in the mechanics and drivers way, you can literally come as close as it gets to the cars.

The formula of the event is pretty simple: four different classes (Turbo, NA, Radial and Second Class) and very loose regulations. Each class had two 30-minutes sessions on the track, one in the morning and one in the early afternoon.
Spring is approaching and temperatures are rising, which means that the event was one of the last chances to challenge records and personal bests this year.

The variety of the cars fielded is simply fantastic and included all kind of goodness, from Japan classics to more expensive European brands.

The FD3S is an extremely popular platform thanks to its fine chassis balance and lightweight construction.

Several models across the different classes were present, including stock-ish looking models like the Advan Racing RGN RX-7.

Or extreme aero monsters like the Carshop Dream KJM7.

This particular car produces 800ps and entered the World Time Attack in 2016.

The FD3S was by far the most popular platform of the event and the screaming sound of rotary was just fantastic.

But what about GT-Rs? Well, they are definitely becoming an expensive platform and the Kyushu Danji BNR34 was the only model of its kind present at the event.

This car also develops 800ps and was capable to stop the clock around the 54 seconds mark!

While, still in the Nissan family, there were a few BNR32.

And even a Fairlady Z 380RS.

Quite a few Porsches also took their chance at attacking Tsukuba, like this very clean Cayman.

Speaking of surprises, I definitely didn't expect to see a Lotus, but this Exige proved to be extremely fast!

The morning went by really fast and by lunchtime the teams started to gear up for their final attempts as temperature started to rise.

I took some time to wonder around a bit.

Everything looked so familiar thanks to Gran Turismo and getting around for the first time in real life was quite a strange feeling.

Overall a great day filled with passion for cars and motorsport; will definitely be back.

Until next time.