Godzilla From Down Under
In 1982, the FIA introduced a set of motorsport regulations for racing cars derived from production vehicles to compete in touring car racing and rallying. The primary aim of this "Group A" class was intended to ensure that privateer teams could compete in top class racing competition. The FIA's homologation requirements enabled the rise of Group A legends such as the Ford Sierra RS Cosworth, the BMW M3, the Subaru Impreza WRX and the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution in addition to the R32 Nissan Skyline GT-R.
While I knew that the Nissan Skyline R32 GT-R (featured here as a 1/43 scale model by Apex), had tasted endurance racing success on the storied tracks at Daytona, Nurburgring and Spa, it blew my mind the other day that the now famous "Godzilla" moniker for the Skyline GTR came, not from Japan, but from Down Under in Australia.
The R32 Skyline GTR was introduced in 1989 and revitalized Nissan. It was the first Skyline to get the GT-R tag and boasted of some mindblowing performance numbers that put it among the supercars of that era. But it was JDM only until Nissan Australia decided that it needed to import it from Japan to race in the Australian Touring Car Championship (ATCC).
The Japanese media had already christened the car Obakemono -- a shape-shifting monster, but the world needed a easier name to pronounce. So when Nissan Australia's plan to homologate the car (100 were imported for sale at a $110,000 price tag!) for local Group A racing became public, the Australian media started taking notice and the buzz began with a Wheels magazine cover anointing it in advance as Godzilla. And the R32 Skyline delivered on the buzz, dominating competition in the Australian Touring Car Championship (ATCC) for the next three years.
Gibson Motorsports (backed by Nismo) entered the R32 Skyline GT-R to complete in the ATCC in 1990 to replace the previous generation HR31 Skyline GTS-R. During the next three years, even as the reliance on Nismo slowly tapered down due to escalating costs, the Gibson R32s wrecked havoc on competition in the ATCC, culminating with a 1-2 win in the 1992 ATCC drivers standings and 2 consecutive Tooheys 1000 wins at the Mount Panorama circuit at Bathurst.
The first year of competition for the R32s was difficult. When the Group A GTR showed up at Mount Panorama for the 1990's running of the 1000 km race at Bathurst, the ATCC's most prestigious race, the #1 car (the only R32 in the competition that year) stormed to the lead soon after the start, but mechanical problems meant that the car only finished 18th.
But next year, R32 GT-Rs dominated the ATCC winning 7 out of the 9 rounds. At Bathurst, a R32 GT-R set a top speed record of 293 km/hr during practice. The front row was occupied by R32s and the #1 car driven by ATCC legends Jim Richards and Mark Skaife won the race (a lap ahead of the next placed car), running the 1000 km in a time of 6 hours and 19 mins, a record that stood until 2010.
The R32's stupendous record in 1991 meant that, in 1992, the R32s were hit with numerous weight and power restrictions intended to restore parity. But the R32s still won 4 races and was on the podium in every ATCC race that year. But 1992 is best remembered for the eventful race at Bathurst where this #1 R32 GT-R featured here was declared the winner in controversial circumstances.
Late in the 1992 edition of the Toohey's 1000, a rainstorm enveloped parts of the track at Mount Panorama. Several cars running dry weather tires crashed on the wet track. Richards and Skaife's #1 GTR slid off the track too while leading the race. The race was almost immediately red flagged. Considering that the leading cars had already completed more than three fourths of the 1000 km race, the regulations meant that the race could not be restarted. And the #1 GT-R that was race leader when the previous lap ended was declared the winner.
The events of the post race ceremony that turned public sentiment against the teams running the GTR and the dominance of the GTR itself hastened the end of the Group A class in Australia. For the 1993 season the ATCC regulations were changed to ban turbos and AWD while creating a new class that effectively (due to Nissan's refusal to support a class that was designed to handicap them) could feature only V8 powered Holdens and Fords. And this Ford-Holden rivalry would last for the next 20 years until 2013 when Nissan and Mercedes returned to the fold Down Under.