The venue was the GT Academy International race camp. I was one of the lucky few who were invited to spend a week at Silverstone with Nissan GT Academy's finalists. The idea was to go and witness closely how the GT Academy program runs and how tough and challenging it is to win it.
I have to say I was excited, however, my excitement didn’t even half-matched the exuberance I had when I've been informed that I will be driving Nissan's mighty GTR round Silverstone.
This may sound awkward for some of you but despite the fact that I work as a full time motoring journalist since 2008, I've never driven or even had the chance of taking a passenger ride in the mighty Godzilla! That's mainly because, as you probably all know, we don't have these types of vehicles in our humble market.
To put it into perspective, the GTR Nissan was launched in 2007 which in pure math means that it’s an eight year old car already. Does that make it quiet a superannuated car compared to today's metal? Not really, I have to say; the GT-R still packs a lot of sci-fi tech that can shame a lot of the recently launched supercars.
The best thing about the GT-R though is that it's one of the most successful remakes ever happened in the history of motoring. The amount of passion people had for the king of all JDMs in the past was mesmerising to say the least. From the iconic Skyline GT-R R32, to the PlayStation generation GT-R R34; everyone dreamed of having one in their driveways. It's inevitable when you're talking about a car that easily embarrassed a lot of exotic machinery at a fraction of the price.
When it was launched, the new generation GT-R had the same concept as its predecessors; however, several things have changed in order for it to cope with the intense competition. Chief among these changes was the price. Started at around $75,000 back in 2007; the GT-R was relatively affordable compared to a Porsche 911 Turbo for example. Year after year though, Nissan began to refine, tune and update the GT-R in order to keep up with the ever-growing competition and with all these updates came several price hikes.
These days, a well kitted 2016 GT-R will set you back almost $120,000 which makes it quiet a pricey car when you consider the badge on its bonnet. The Godzilla is not for the blue-collar motoring freaks anymore. Nevertheless, when you put into consideration the amount of tech, research, development and, more importantly, performance the GT-R pack, everything immediately start to make sense.
Standing at Stowe complex waiting for my turn to jump behind the wheel, I went back in mind and started to recap all the articles, video reviews and verdicts I watched and read about the Nissan GT-R during the past eight years. I commemorated how much I wanted to drive that car and how much I imagined myself having one on my driveway. I don't want to sound romantic or cheesy in any way but the whole experience felt so emotional.
My car arrived; I grabbed the Aston Martin-styled door handle and instantly jumped into the driver seat. On the passenger seat I had a tremendously special instructor for the day which was Nissan's Nismo LMP1 racing driver Harry Ticknell; 2014 24 Hours of Le Mans LMP2 class winner.
Harry was there to make sure that I drive properly on the track. On the whole, everything was a bit overwhelming for me; Silverstone circuit, a Le Mans winner on the passenger seat and a car that produces 550hp and 632Nm of torque from a 3.8 liter twin turbo V6 engine and can accelerate from 0 to 100km/h in just 2.9 seconds and on to a top speed of 315km/h. A car that I've been aching to drive for eight lengthy years.
Prior to letting us loose on the circuit, we've been told in the drivers briefing that we will be driving the GT-R only for 12 laps and then we have to go into the pits, I was gutted by that to be honest because I knew that these 12 laps will feel like 12 flying seconds, so I had to make sure that I am prepared to soak up every little detail, and to soak it up very well in order to stack away this experience in my mind. In hindsight, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy to do so and therefore I decided to use a GoPro instead.
Before I take you deeper into my thrilling story with the GT-R, I just wanted to point out that if you're the sort of person who's prognosticating a geeky technical review; look away immediately. This will be my story of a very short showdown between me and Japan's most desirable supercar. After all, you've probably read enough technical reviews about the GT-R already since its launch, so today is all about the actual experience.
The first thing you notice but tend to ignore is the big screen on the center console displaying all the nerdy readouts that you won't feel like bothering yourself with, especially if you're experiencing your first few miles in the GT-R. It would've been a lot more tempting to go through these readouts if I was keeping this car for let's say no less than six months. So no time for them today sadly.
From the inside the car feels big, however, interior space is not the most generous when you consider how wide and long the car is. Furthermore, having completed several laps earlier in a 370Z Nismo and a Juke Nismo RS, I've also noticed a lot of commonly shared switches and parts in the interior of the GT-R, which didn’t feel very nice or special considering that this is a car that should be representing Nissan's flagship $120,000 supercar.
However, all these first impression details were wiped away instantaneously as soon as I slightly started feathering the throttle to drive out of the pit lane. Forget everything you once read or heard about how muted, uninvolving or lackluster the GT-R is compared to its predecessors or today's supercars; this thing feels mechanical.
You hear and feel everything moving underneath you, it produces mechanical noises that make it feel very peculiar indeed. My first few meters in the GT-R felt brilliant already. Driving out of the pit lane, I short shifted a few gears to reach the first hairpin which is the slowest corner on Stowe circuit. I simply wanted to save that first moment of acceleration to the main straight which actually followed the first hairpin.
Going out of the slow corner, I floored it to the carpet and boy was I'm in for a shocker! The power, the torque, the traction and the quick gears made me speechless all the way till I've reached the first and the heaviest breaking point on the track.
Although at this point, Harry was quiet uncomfortable knowing that he is approaching a breaking point that is as dangerous as it is vital on the Stowe Circuit while doing almost 240km/h with me at the wheel, the car's speed effortlessly vanished. That gave me huge confidence on that brake paddle but also made the Le Mans winner execute some slightly hesitated hand gestures trying to express his desire of telling me to take care and slow down.
Half way through my first lap, I started to tackle Stowe's chicanes and bends and straightaway I realized what every motoring journalist in the world was on about. The way the GT-R attacks corners simply elucidates why it won EVO Car Of The Year award back in 2008.
You just point its nose where you want it to go and it just goes, it never takes no for an answer. The dampers are flawlessly tuned to be as leveled and as composed as possible. From what I remember, I can't recall at any point that the GT-R behaved weirdly on any corner. It was one of the most stable vehicles if not the most stable vehicle I've ever driven in my life.
Bear in mind that with fluids, a full tank of fuel and two passengers, aka myself and Harry Tincknell, you are looking at a car the weighs almost two tons! That's enormously ponderous in a world full of lightweight Ferrari 488GTBs, McLaren 650Ss and Porsche 911 GT3s. Nevertheless, using technologies that I am plainly not qualified to talk you through, Nissan's boffins managed to create a car that handles like it's on rails.
Yes, you do feel the weight, at some parts of the tracks where you have to change directions quickly from one corner to the other, it felt slenderly cumbersome, but all in all, it is as athletic as the best supercars out there.
Even the noise was quiet enjoyable; I have to say that while I was waiting at the pit lane, I was slightly disappointed with the noise coming out of the GT-R's tailpipes. It sounded way too conservative for a car of this caliber, however from the inside, the sound suited the car very well, with mechanical noises that added to the experience and added a very gratifying sense of occasion.
Lap after lap, I was getting more mesmerized about the Godzilla and, thankfully, Harry was getting more comfortable in his seat. In fact he even started giving me compliments about my driving and about how good my racing line was, I was beaming and glad.
The more I drove the car, the more I gained more confident in its chassis, its brakes and its overall behavior. The combination of the 550hp engine and the dual clutch gearbox was astonishing; the car literally throws you in the back of your seat every time it exists a corner. And the gearshifts are so immediate and quick that you have to react with the flappy paddles very quickly in order to keep up.
Before I know it, Harry quietly said to me "we should go into the pits by the end of this lap…" I didn't realize how on earth have I managed to lap the Stowe circuit 12 times in what felt like a minute or two! It was one hell of an overwhelming experience. I was actually very sad it ended so quickly because to get acquainted with a car like the GT-R, with its unbelievably broad abilities, you'll need no less than an ownership experience to soak it all up.
Compared to some of today's offerings, the GT-R may started to feel its age slightly, but it's still super quick off the line, round corners and on back straights. It will go down in the history books as one of the greatest cars of all time, and I was glad that I had the chance to experience it before they put it out of production and bring its hybridized upcoming generation. I was just hoping that I could remember more of this very quick, short and thrilling experience. Thank god I used that GoPro.