Saturday, May 27, 2017

Nissan's Nürburgring Meister

The relationship between the BNR34 and the Nürburgring is certainly a controversial one; as the 24 hours race is about to kick off this weekend I thought it would be interesting to look back at the history of the Skyline and the world's most demanding circuit.

Today the German track is widely recognized as the ultimate test field for production cars, but the Skyline GT-R history dates as back as 1989, when the Nissan Experimental Department brought project GT-X (BNR32) on the Nordschleife for the first time. The team managed to achieve a fairly impressive 8'30" time during the first attempts and, after some fine tuning, succeeded in beating the Porsche 994 best time with a solid 8'20". While the car overall performed very well, it was clear from the very beginning that its construction presented a few limitations that would prevent further incremental improvements: excessive curb weight (1430kg), poor body rigidity and aerodynamics and overall a natural tendency to understeer in high speed cornering situations. 

By the time the production of the second generation Skyline GT-R - the BCNR33 - started, Nissan had developed a complete tuning facility nearby the Nürburgring and clearly regarded the circuit as one of the main test and development fields. 

With body rigidity increased by 44%, much improved weight distribution (56/45 against 59.4/40.6), a longer wheelbase and adjustable rear wing, the improvements resulted to be dramatic. Naturally, when back in 1995, Dirk Schoysman, at the wheel of a BCNR33 V-spec, shaved over 20 seconds off the BNR32 fastest time with a then record setting 7'59" the expectations went to the roof. Nissan highly publicized the event and fans were expecting a substantial improvement with the release of the BNR34.

All the figures and data pointed in the right direction: closer transmission ratios, faster turbo spool and higher boost resulted in quicker acceleration, while the shorter wheelbase, improved rigidity and stiffer suspensions made the BNR34 a more agile car than its predecessors.

The aerodynamic of the new GT-R was also improved with the two-piece adjustable flap being more efficient of the single-element rear wing equipped on the BCNR33. 

The carbon fiber rear under diffuser produced by Le Man Company was, not only visually impressive, but actually produced 20kg of negative lift at 180km/h, while the NACA duct effectively cooled the A-LSD.

However, as we know, despite having completed over 1,000 laps of intensive test session on the German track, Nissan never released an official time for the third generation Skyline GT-R, which led to much controversy and debates on whether the R34 was actually faster than its predecessor.
A rare Midnight Purple III prototype in Germany
As the layout has slightly changed over the years and time has gone by, our chances of seeing a professional test driver taking on the Nürburgring with a full stock BNR34 for a time attack in 2017 are almost slim to none.
However, in 2014 Nissan released a series of videos to commemorate the R35 GT-R lap record of 7'08"679 and one particular video - Nissan's Nürburgring Meister - caught my attention. The video is a short tribute to Hiroyoshi Kato, Nissan's ace test driver who was in charge of the development of all three Skyline GT-R on the German track.

Kato-san explains how, while there was a strong focus on performances and lap times, ultimately the main goal was to produce a machine enjoyable by anybody on any road. The presence of a BNR34 in Silica Breath in the background obviously caught my attention and, while at first I thought it was positioned there purely for marketing reasons, a closer look revealed the presence of a temporary license plate with red characters (for development vehicles only) as well as a bolted on roll cage!

In a second video - NISSAN GT-R NISMO Development Story (REVISED)Sébastien Buemi, former F1 driver for Toro Rosso, who was involved in the R35 Nismo development, reveals how he spent substantial time behind the wheel of the BNR34 for comparison reasons. 
Without jumping to any conclusion, I personally found this very cool. The fact that, 15 years after its release, Nissan still values feedback from the BNR34 for the development of a machine that is in a completely different league, speaks volume about what Kato-san and the engineering team were able to realize back in the days.

Until next time.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Super GT Round 2 - Fuji 500km

The Super GT Fuji 500km race is an event that I try to attend every year. Maybe is the 1.5 kilometers long straight with one of Japan's most iconic symbols in the backdrop, or maybe are the memories of hours spent as a kid collecting photos online of vintage JGTC races, but, no matter how many times I have visited, being trackside at Fuji Speedway is always special.

Round 2 of the Super GT series takes place in the middle of Golden Week, which usually means a completely packed facility.

The more tenacious fans come fully equipped, going as far as setting up tents on the side of the course!

Getting around the exhibitors area and food stands is almost a feat - it's really that packed.

Some fans waited in line up to two hours to try the demo of the new Gran Turismo Sport, scheduled to release later this year.

Nismo was also present with a stand full of gadget and the mighty 2013 Super GT machine: I really prefer this look over the new aero regulations that mirror DTM ones.

All the major makers and factory teams take this opportunity to showcase their latest and greatest machines.

And Web Cartop managed to gather a very colorful lineup of cars for some magazine shoot.

This time I took a long walk and decided to pay my first visit to Fuji Speedway Old Course Memorial Park.

The 30 degree bank corner is really steep and must be seen in person to be truly appreciated - lots of drivers have lost their lives here.

Walking around the parking lots is a small event in itself, as all sort of cars can be found. From old Japanese classics:

To mid-90's icons.

All the way to more rare gems.

And even vintage Porsches!

Coming race-time the tension on the starting grid is almost palpable.

And the traditional rolling start kicks off the 110 laps battle.

Moving around the track is fairly easy and allows fans to admire the race from every corner. The famous hairpin at the end of the main straight is a great place to watch braking showdowns.

While the exit from the 100R corner allows to fully appreciate the incredible cornering speeds of this machines with Mount Fuji in the background.

The last part of the technical zone is a great place to watch the drivers showcasing perfect racecraft as they draw flawless trajectories out of every turn.

It's in this very area of the track that Max Orido in his Laborghini Huracán had to abruptly stop his race due to a suspension failure that led to losing his right rear wheel!

Watching the cars accelerating down the main straight while every gear change is accompanied by a loud exhaust explosion is something worth the admission ticket alone. To put things in prospective: GT500 machines are faster around Fuji than LMP2 prototypes.

And after 110 laps and almost three hours of racing the Zent Cerumo LC500 took the checkered flag, while fans rushed below the podium for celebratory photos.

All the cars were quickly gathered inside the closed area for post-race technical inspection.

I have always loved how colorful and unique are the Japanese liveries compared to other series: it adds so much to these machines allure.

Fans were also allowed to walk around the course: definitely a cool experience.

The sun slowly disappeared behind Mount Fuji, marking the end to a very long, yet satisfying day.

Until next time.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Midnight Purple III V-spec Condition Check

Golden Week is in full swing and so far I've been making the most out of it. Many people have reached asking for more posts about GT-R (or JDM) specialist shop and a couple of days ago I paid my first visit to GT-Garage. Located in Chiba, this shop has currently on display one of the most talked BNR34 on the web: a completely stock Midnight Purple III V-spec.

I was greeted by the shop manager, Nakamura-san, who, not only was super friendly, but also an all out RX-7 fanatic, having owned 5 models over the years!
We started chatting right away and he kindly brought the car inside the workshop area for me to have a look: beside the paint looking a bit roughed up (nothing that a good wash and detail cannot fix), it looked like it just rolled off the production line.

The polished silver wheels and the matching rear spoiler flap are signature touches of this specific hue and it's becoming increasingly hard to see models on sale still equipped with them.

Midnight Purple III must really be seen in person to be fully appreciated; although this is probably the most sought after color by collectors, I am personally not a huge fan. I love the deep purple that can be seen from a perfect side or front view, but I really don't like the maroon shade that prevails from from three quarter or anytime you are not perfectly parallel to the car, which is basically most of the times. 

A completely unmolested engine bay and 44,000kms on the odometer bring the value of this car to a round 8 million Yen. 

Bearing the "GGJPRWYR34ZDA1BKCE" option code, this specific model is one of only two LX0 colored V-spec to be fully equipped with sat-nav, 6-speakers audio system and side airbags, but surprising lacked the remote lock function.

The interior was almost completely perfect, besides some normal wear and tear, the failing screen on the MFD and the fact that the original owner was a smoker. 

Nakamura-san pointed out that the car was originally located in Kobe, as confirmed by the Nissan Hyogo sticker on the rear.

Despite looking great from the outside, this GT-R is proof of how storage and ownership history trump mileage any day when it comes to assess a car conditions and how difficult is becoming to find clean BNR34s: the seal on the left strut tower has failed and the structure visibly begun developing rust.

While this may look like an easy fix to the untrained eyes, removing the whole seal will likely reveal rust all around and inside the junction, all the way in between the panelsA quick look under the wheel arch showed rust creeping out of the welded panel, which means that the damage is not merely superficial: while not in immediate need of restoration, the car one day will definitely need some serious work, which unfortunately will require cutting through the struts.

This is a very sensitive part for the BNR34 as Nissan didn't put any seal in the inner wheel arches, making the car very vulnerable. A simple yet effective way to preserve this area is to spray it with protective rubberized foam: this, not only will prevent water from infiltrating, but also protect the structure from the inevitable banging from small rocks and debris picked up by the wheels. The photo below of Mine's very own democar clearly shows how much stress the wheel arches are subject to when not properly protected.
© Speedhunters
Additional details that, in my eyes, stained the car pedigree were the absence of detailed maintenance books (only 7 years worth of history) and the fact that it had proof of valid shaken (Japanese biannual roadworthiness test, mandatory to keep a vehicle on the road) only two times. Still, a collectors item for sure, and I hope it will be cared for by the next owner.

After chatting for a while we then moved outside where several other BNR34 were on display, including three M-spec!

This type of storage conditions are far from ideal, but covered parking in Japan is indeed a luxury, even in the countryside. Most owners usually do their best to cover their rides when parked outside, but, as Yamada-san at Nismo explained, this usually backfires, especially if the cars don't get driven often: the incredibly humid Japanese summer combined with the heat generates dangerous amounts of condensed water that gets trapped under the waterproof covers. This is why we see so many low kilometers Skyline GT-Rs affected by rust.

The thick layer of dirt on the cars was honestly painful to watch.

The best dealers that work more on quality rather than volume tend to keep all the cars inside their showrooms, but this is nearly not enough to make up for years of bad storage conditions, as the engine bay of this 10,000km M-spec confirmed.

On the other hand, this fantastic Savanna RX-7 was a great example of how a car should be kept and maintained over the years.

One day I wouldn't mind owning one of these classics.

Nakamura-san is a real car enthusiast and we end up chatting for a while before I headed back home. Chiba looks indeed very different from Tokyo...

Until next time.