It was, as a Chicago mobster might say, an offer I couldn’t refuse.
Given the hype and hoop-la that surrounds the much-vaunted Nissan GT-R, when an invitation to drive the 2010 model around the Phillip Island Grand Prix circuit landed on my desk I was quick to accept it.
The updates for the 2010 model year are modest (Sat-nav, slight suspension tweaks and better cooling are the biggest changes), but Nissan Australia was keen to mark the arrival of the updated GT-R with a hands-on demonstration of its on-track prowess.
With this in mind they flew over two people, both of whom were instrumental in the R35’s development. Kazutoshi Mizuno is the man who has led the R35 project since it was first conceptualized, and continues to busy himself with refining the platform.
In fact, hours after speaking to the press at Phillip Island, Mizuno-san was on a plane to Germany where the 2011 GT-R is undergoing testing.
The other special guest was Nissan test driver Toshio Suzuki, who is perhaps best remembered as the man who set the GT-R’s blistering 7:26.7 Nurburgring Nordschliefe record lap.
With his intimate knowledge of the GT-R’s driving dynamics and performance capabilities, he was the ideal person to show the assembled media just how quickly the big coupe can be hustled.
Mizuno delivered an in-depth technical briefing that thoroughly covered the GT-R’s engine, transmission and chassis before sending us to pit lane, where a row of GT-Rs sat idling, waiting to be let off the leash.
A set of warm-up exercises got us acquainted with the GT-R’s impressive performance, with a braking test, cornering test and slalom demonstrating the R35’s surprising agility.
This is a car that weighs over 1740kg, but the speed at which it changes direction defies belief. You feel through the (wonderfully-weighted) steering wheel exactly what the front wheels are doing, and turn-in is beautifully crisp.
During the tech briefing Mizuno mentioned that the GT-R’s high kerb weight assists mechanical grip. It’s a balance thing of course; light it up on the track and the R35 can sustain impressive lateral G-forces, all the while remaining composed, stable and virtually unflappable.
The sheer grip that’s available is almost alien, and the GT-R dances like a car 400kg lighter.
Nissan avoided giving journalists the opportunity to do a full-throttle standing start (some negative press has been created by a handful of drag racers experiencing gearbox breakages), but the forces experienced during a rolling start from 40km/h leaves no doubt that the GT-R is blisteringly quick in a straight line.
Pin the throttle to the firewall and the twin-turbocharged VR38DETT 3.8 litre V6 lights up, both turbos cramming huge volumes of air into the engine and creating a Hoover-like induction noise in the process.
Turbo lag is barely perceptible, and boost hits strongly from low in the rev range. A full throttle run has you nailed into your seat. Saying that it is pretty brisk is an understatement.
Nissan makes no official claim for the GT-R’s 0-100km/h time, but independent testing has shown it to be capable of hitting triple-digits in 3.5 seconds – without disabling the car’s sophisticated stability control systems.
The braking test showed the Nissan can shed speed faster than it gathers it. Stomp on the left pedal and the GT-R stands on its nose, with most of the car’s 1.7 tonne mass shifting to the front tyres and giving the sizable six-piston Brembo brakes the grip they need.
Inside, your best option is to brace against the steering wheel - lest the seatbelt cut a diagonal stripe across your torso.
To fully explore the GT-R’s capabilities, the cones were cleared away and the rest of the track was opened up for some hot laps. As if on cue, the heavens decided to open up too.
New tactics were needed. With rain now sweeping across the track, the dry racing line was next to useless.
The passing of thousands of race-compound tyres has over the years left the dry line covered in a thin film of rubber, which lets water pool on the tarmac rather than drain away.
This meant the wet line would have to be used, which necessitated tiptoeing around the outside of each corner.
Slow, but safe.
The Dunlop SP Sport 600 tyres on the base GT-R are fantastic in the dry, and more akin to a semi-slick than a regular road tyre. The trade-off is poorer wet-weather performance, and, at Phillip Island on that particular day, the weather was especially wet.
A pity then that despite the GT-R’s clever all-wheel drive system - which I’d hoped would be able to compensate for the rapidly worsening weather - and despite trying its damnedest to turn in a quick lap, we were thwarted (literally) at every turn.
Applying a meaningful amount of power with the front wheels in anything but a straight-ahead position saw the back step out sideways, while straying onto the dry line invoked either understeer, oversteer or a combination of both.
Ultra-smooth inputs were a must, but my natural inclination to hug the inside radius of each corner didn’t help.
Swinging onto Gardner Straight was a welcome opportunity to open the taps, and the GT-R responded willingly.
However, on the third blast down the straight, clipping a small puddle of standing water had the wheels on one side aquaplaning (while under full power at 200km/h) and the tail moving sideways.
The GT-R’s stability control system caught it, but it wasn’t a comfortable sensation.
Both my instructor and myself were relieved when we pitted in. The rain was simply coming down too hard.
A short while later it was time to venture out again. Toshio Suzuki was giving joyrides, and I’d have the chance to see how a truly talented driver handles the GT-R.
Even though on a sodden track, Suzuki didn’t hold back. As soon as pit lane was cleared he pushed the car hard, but seemed to be focusing on maximum enjoyment rather than quick laps.
That said, the front straight was taken at nearly 250km/h and Suzuki wasn’t afraid to brake much later than I (or indeed most others) would.
Nearly every corner was taken with some degree of oversteer, with Suzuki relishing the opportunity to throw the car sideways around the circuit. However, even in the hands of a Nissan test driver the wet track was proving too tricky to master.
Inconsistent grip levels across the track’s surface saw the GT-R (in Suzuki’s hands), switch between juddery understeer, and impressively long, fluid drifts.
Talking to him afterward, he said that drifting the GT-R was actually much easier (and fun) in the dry, as wheel slip could be more precisely managed.
It was disappointing to have our party crashed by Victoria’s notoriously fickle weather.
The weather was truly atrocious and, were it not for the GT-R’s all-wheel drive and tricky electronics, odds are we would have packed up early and called it a day.
Suffice to say, the two-wheel drive opposition from Ferrari and Porsche would have a hell of a time keeping up with the GT-R in the wet.
They’d also have trouble keeping up with it in the showroom, too. At $158,800 for the base GT-R and $162,800 for the GT-R Premium (before on-road costs), the Nissan is the very definition of a budget supercar.
It may not be able to conquer the wrath of Mother Nature, but it’s virtually indomitable in every other respect.