We all know Nissan's new R35 GT-R is faster than the 911 Turbo and we've just seen how it fares against a Japanese bullet train, but how does it go when pitted against its own ancestors? I ain't talking about a stock-for-stock comparison here of course, as it's a no brainer that the previous generations of GT-R with their powerplants limited by the Japanese "Gentlemen's Agreement" would never stand a chance against the unbridled fury of the R35.
No, what I want to know is how Nissan's newest sports car performs when lined up against highly-tuned examples of the R32, R33 and R34 GT-R, and what better place to find out than at the inaugural Superlap Time Attack battle at Oran Park.
Time attack is a relatively new phenomenon here in Australia, but in terms of demonstrating a race car's true ability the category is ideal. Instead of lining up on a grid and racing wheel-to-wheel, time attack competitors exit the pits at staggered intervals, complete a number of flying laps at full tilt, then pit in. The car that posts the fastest lap of the day wins. Simple.
Because there's no need to constantly dodge other traffic or worry about who's in front/behind/beside you, time attack battles are less about late-braking competitions and sneaky cornering techniques, and more about pursuing the perfect racing line and keeping that throttle nailed. In other words, it's the perfect way to test the outright performance of any sports car.
With this in mind I packed my bags, jumped into the TMR-copter and headed up to Sydney to check out this time attack thing for myself. I'm glad I did, as what waited for me at Oran Park was car geek heaven. A veritable smorgasbord of Japanese sportscars were lined up in the paddock and all along pit lane, with a few European gatecrashers thrown in.
The field was incredibly diverse, with everything from Lancer Evos to Supras clogging the pits. Hell, there was even a race-tuned Landcruiser at the event, which amazingly enough was not the slowest car on the day. Modifications among the GT-R entrants ranged from bog-stock (the R35) to hardcore, which was perfect for my little experiment. Could a relatively cheap grey-import 90's GT-R with a few modifications equal the modern muscle of the R35 for less cost, or has Nissan been able to craft a true supercar capable of rivaling even the most dedicated Japanese tuner car?
The majority of R32-34 Skylines at Superlap had some serious work and some serious dollars poured into them, with the two most comprehensively modified GT-Rs being the Hi Octane R32 and the Brandster Motorsports R32. Stripped out, lightened and running well over the R35's 373kW, these GT-Rs may as well have been from another planet, and the Hi Octane R32 had even recently travelled to the home of time attack, Tsukuba Circuit in Japan, where it posted a very rapid 59-second lap. Clearly, it was going to be a very lopsided competition.
So, once all the tyre smoke had settled and the track been cleared of debris, it was no surprise to see that the R35 had lost out to the flame-spitting, race-only Skylines.
What was surprising, however, was how close the R35 came to the top of the field. It's fastest lap time of 1:17.129 was only five seconds off the pace of the winner and was good enough to put it into 11th place in the Open class and 12th place overall: a stunning result for the only mechanically standard car in a field of 65 entrants.
But 11th place is 11th place, so is the R35 not quite the supercar Nissan would have you believe? Is your hard-earned better spent on a second-hand R32 and a bunch of aftermarket parts? Well, yes and no. If you want the ultimate track GT-R, a car that's capable of charging up straights and through chicanes in the fastest time possible, then you'd probably be better off with one of the older models and the vast array of aftermarket tuning parts and know-how that's been developed for them. On the other hand, if you want a car that's blisteringly quick on a circuit, yet still comfortable enough to drive on public roads without shaking your kidneys loose, then you really can't do any better than the R35.
Russell Newman, the owner and driver of the R35 at Superlap, had nothing but praise for the new GT-R. He said that not only was it easy to drive on the track, but its on-road manners were well above par for such a high-performance machine. The only modification Newman had made to his GT-R was to remove the speed limiter, meaning that the R35's performance at Superlap was just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what this car can do - no matter what you change about it, it can only go faster from here. Speaking of tweaks, Newman plans to strip the plush (and weighty) interior, fit a roll cage, racing seat, R-comp tyres and retune the ECU for his car's next outing: an assault on Targa Tasmania. According to Newman, the standard Bilstein suspension with its ideal blend of compliance and firmness is ideal for a tarmac rally, while the rest of the mechanical package provides more than enough power and control for serious competition.
To put the R35's performance into the proper context, one must also consider the unfair disadvantage that was placed on it at Superlap. The ultra-sticky Dunlop SP Sport 600 tyres that the GT-R is fitted with at the factory were classed as too soft for the street-car friendly Clubsprint class, so the R35 was pushed into running against purpose-built racecars weighing half as much in the Open class. Had it been allowed into Clubsprint the R35 would have placed second, beaten only by a turbocharged Honda S2000.
So there you have it. Aside from being a fantastic sports car on the road, the R35 GT-R is also more than capable of mixing it up with highly-tuned cars on the circuit without any major modification.
It's little wonder then that so many in Australia are jumping to get their hands on a GT-R of their own. Official imports are slated to begin sometime next year, however several individuals have already jumped the gun and imported a JDM-spec vehicle for race use (as yet, the R35 cannot legally be driven on public roads in Australia). One such individual who's done exactly that is a man who we'll refer to only as "Big Carl". Carl has got his hands on a brand-new R35 GT-R and I took some time out at Superlap to meet up with the man himself and check out his current ride, a pristine V35 Skyline 350GT (below).
Despite its relatively understated exterior, Carl's V35 Skyline packs a solid punch under the bonnet. Not only has Carl had the motor stroked out from the standard 3.5-litres to 4.15-litres, but he's also had an APS twin-turbo kit and a set of Nismo high lift camshafts fitted. The whole combo is good for 535kW at the wheels, which is a hell of a lot more than the R35's power figure. One can only guess what Carl will end up doing to the GT-R, but if his V35 is anything to go by it will be extreme. Carl's Skyline just happens to be for sale (hey, he's gotta fund that R35 somehow), so if anyone out there is looking for a late-model Skyline with an obscene amount of power, drop us a line and we'll put you in touch with the big man.
All of us here at TMR have a special spot in our hearts for Nissan's newest GT-R, and we'll continue to keep y'all abreast of our experiences with this machine, which is without a doubt Japan's first world-class supercar. As for the whole time attack thing, I sincerely hope it takes off in Australia as it's easily one of the most diverse motorsports categories out there and great fun to watch. If you're a big Japanese car nerd, then attending a time attack event is one of those must-do-before-you-die things, so do yourself a favour and check it out the next time one happens to be in your area. For those of you who're kicking yourself after missing out on Superlap '08 don't worry, head over to JPCN to check out all the highlights from Oran Park.