As part of Skyline week, it seems only appropriate to include images from the R34 GT-R's final season in the JGTC (All-Japan Grand Touring Championship), 2003. After taking the title in its debut season in 1999, the R34 later came up against stiff competition from the likes of the Toyota Supra and Honda NSX.
After a disappointing 2002 where the Skyline GT-R recorded no victories, for 2003 a concerted effort was in place to reverse the fortunes of the crowd-favourite.
In addition to major development of the car in the off-season, the three contenders campaigned in 2003 included the pair of factory machines and the CALSONIC-branded car from TEAM IMPUL. On the driver front, Nissan combined experience with youth. In the #22 car former champion Masami Kageyama was joined by up-and-coming Northern Irishman Richard Lyons, himself in a year of ascendancy after a highly impressive debut season in the Takata Dome NSX the previous year.
In the CALSONIC car, Benoit Treluyer (who also made his JGTC debut in a Takata Dome NSX, he in 2001) was in for his first full season after joining the squad midway through 2002. Alongside him sat Yuji Ide, having moved up from GT300 with the Hasemi Nissan outfit.
In the lead NISMO machine, the bulletproof pairing of Satoshi Motoyama and former champion Michael Krumm must have looked fearsome in the eyes of their rivals.
The opening round at TI (now called Okayama International Circuit) saw the reigning titleholders in their Team LeMans Supra take first blood, followed closely by the #23 NISMO machine in 2nd – and it wasn't long before a Nissan was in the winners' circle.
Round 2, held at Fuji Speedway, showed that the hard work over the winter had paid off handsomely. Taking victory was the #22 car…
….with the #12 machine in 2nd place. Not far behind, the other factory machine (#23) took fourth. The GT-R was back!
The #23 car was once again on the podium for Round 3, held at Sportsland SUGO, showing that the GT-R's performance could be translated to very differing types of tracks (Fuji being fast and flat while SUGO is hilly and twisty, Okayama very stop-and-go). It was Round 4 though (above) where Nissan's 'Young Guns' Treluyer and Ide shone in that season's second visit to Fuji.
The duo took a consummate victory ahead of Round 2 winners Lyons and Kageyama in the #22 car. The other factory car took fifth, its fourth top-five result in as many races.
The second half of the season did see a couple of NSX victories (and one from a Supra), but the consistency of the GT-R, particularly the #23 machine, is what held its adversaries at bay.
Autopolis (above) witnessed the factory machines taking fifth and sixth – not their best result, but a points-haul nonetheless. When the GT-Rs weren't winning, they were still adding to their championship tally.
Admittedly, the #12 machine ended up outside the points on this occasion…
But in the season finale at Suzuka, the CALSONIC car came back to take its second victory of the eight-round season, cementing the reputation of the Treluyer/Ide pairing. Here too, the factory cars both came up trumps, the #23 on the final step on the podium, with the sister car in fourth.
And though the #23 machine never took victory (but did earn four podiums), it was enough to seal the Driver's title and NISMO the Teams' laurels.
Helped by the performances of the #22 machine, its pairing finishing the season third overall among the drivers…
While double winners Treluyer and Ide took fourth in the Driver's standings. All in all, a fantastic return-to-form for the eponymous car, a swansong season befitting the legendary machine. Personnel and fans alike were sad to see the end of the Skyline GT-R, though there was anticipation and excitement ahead of 2004 and the all new Fairlady Z….but that's another story.
– Len Clarke