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.

No comments:

Post a Comment