NISMO and JRM chose the Autosport International Racing Car Show at the NEC in Birmingham to officially unveil the Nissan GT-R GT3, which is now on sale to customer teams to race in any series using FIA GT3 regulations.
To coincide with the day of the car's official launch, several thousand miles away in Dubai a GT3 GT-R run by JRM was also lining up to take the start of the Dubai 24 Hours. The driver line-up was certainly a statement of intent, as was the 'Champions' livery it carried: four Nissan champions from a variety of 2011 series had been assembled to drive the GT-R in the round-the-clock desert enduro.
Michael Krumm (FIA GT1 World Champion, JRM Racing) was joined by Franck Mailleux (Intercontinental Le Mans Cup LMP2 Champion, Signatech Nissan), Tom Kimber-Smith (Le Mans Series LMP2 Champion, Greaves Motorsport) and Alex Buncombe (Blancpain Endurance Series GT4 Champion, RJN Motorsport) to run in the Nissan Champions car.
The planned GT3 programme for the Nissan GT-R was originally revealed at the beginning of last year: after an initial test at the Navarra track in Spain with Nick Catsburg at the wheel, JRM then rolled out the fledging GT3 racer in a trio of races to push forward the car's development. There really is no better place to develop a new car for racing than in a race – though of course the flip-side is the publicity of any failure. It's always interesting to see the way a manufacturer goes about this, bearing in mind the secrecy that teams like Audi and Peugeot maintain. It always says a lot about a team.
JRM/Sumo Power FIA GT1 drivers Richard Westbrook and David Brabham drove the development GT-R in its debut race at Magny Cours last August. They entered the Pro category of the Blancpain Endurance series (McLaren also joined the party there with the MP4-12C), showing the car off in a very fetching deep blue paint scheme.
In qualifying the GT-R was within a second and a half of the pole position Ferrari 458 Italia; in the race the car took eighth place at the finish, having started in 16th – a strong performance out of the box (both McLarens were out in the first hour).
Next up was a home outing in a three-hour British GT round at Donington Park in September. Once again the car was around a second and a half off the ultimate pace, but this time the weekend was a lot more trying: the first problem was that the pump for the gear-change system overheated because a mandatory exhaust silencer had to be fitted to conform to series noise regulations, affecting gear selection. The situation was soon rectified by the JRM and NISMO engineers and the GT-R was back in the race, but further problems meant the car was pushed back into the garage during the final hour after 64 laps of racing.
The final competitive run-out was at Silverstone in October for the last round of the Blancpain championship. On this occasion the GT-R raced with three drivers: Westbrook, Catsburg and Peter Dumbreck. The improvement was marked: the car was right on the pace in practice, though it fell to 16th in quallies and was out of the race after 35 laps. The GT-R had pitted with smoke coming from the car at the end of the first hour, then retired for good with suspension failure later in the race.
But the race outings and days spent pounding round test tracks were doing their job – the team were learning what was wrong and what was right, and the decision was taken that it was the right time to officially market the car to potential customers. Which brings us back to Autosport and Dubai.
Displayed on the JRM stand next to its now redundant GT1 big brother, the GT3 looks like it will have the same forceful on-track presence as the GT1 car. Replete with intakes and carbon, the GT3 car looks every inch the racer – unlike some GT3s whose aero packages can make them look a little lightweight. Definitely not an issue here.
Under the louvered hood the GT3 GT-R has a longitudinally mounted VR38DETT 3.8-litre, V6 twin-turbo engine based on the standard road car unit, developing 500hp at 6,400rpm and giving 479ft-lbs of torque. It's very different to the bespoke V8 used in the GT1 contender.
The engine is mated to a 6-speed Hewland sequential gearbox via a Sachs four-plate sintered clutch, accessed by semi-automatic pneumatic paddles. The intakes on the sides are similar to those on the original GT1 GT-R run out in 2009, that weren't present on the Sumo Power cars used in the GT1 World Championship.
The car sits on 18" RAYS centre-lock forged wheels hanging off Ohlins TTX suspension (double wishbones, coil springs over adjustable dampers and adjustable blade anti-roll bars).
Uprated Brembo brakes are installed to bring this beast to a suitably quick halt.
For performance reasons Nissan replaced the standard rear-exit system with a side-exit exhaust and optional catalytic converter.
The elongated box-shaped sills running down the side of the car are an obvious detail change from the more moulded exhaust shrouds on the GT1 car. They run the whole length of the side of the car between the flared wheel arches.
The panels and doors are all carbon composite and Nissan have developed a bespoke aero packed in the wind tunnel, comprising carbon fibre front splitter, flat floor, rear diffuser and adjustable rear wing.
The rear wing is enormous – even the GT1 version is dwarfed by it. The profile is strange as well – it looks like it would generate lift! It will be interesting to find out the concept behind that.
€298,000 will buy you a NISMO GT3 – sales for the car have been split into two territories, with NISMO covering Japan, Asia, America and Oceania, whilst JRM will cover Europe, Russia and the Middle East. Out in Dubai, the JRM GT-R had qualified third for the race, but a collision with a Lamborghini on the tenth lap was the first in a series of issues for the car – the damage caused by the impact led to further problems that put the car out before night took hold. But the pace was proved, so the trip was worthwhile.
Brit Nissan specialists RJN – known for developing and racing the 350Z and 370Z – have been announced as the first customer team to have ordered the GT3 GT-R. They're a long-standing partner of Nissan and will I'm sure help push forward the development of the car. There are rumours that they may well also run a parallel programme in another, as yet unannounced series. Following on from that, in the German ADAC GT Masters series Schulze Motorsport will also be running a NISMO GT3 after several years of fielding self-developed GT-Rs. I'm sure we'll see even more on the grids of the world come the start of the racing season.