The first time I visited the Nismo Festival I was still a student and Fuji Speedway hadn’t been renovated yet.
That’s a long time ago, and yet every first Sunday in December I find myself just as excited to spend an entire day among legends that have forged and shaped Nissan’s motorsports history.
It’s a time to indulge, because regardless of how many times you’ve seen them before, getting up close and personal with these cars never gets old. Plus, the guys at Nismo always manage to throw in the odd surprise to keep it all exciting.
To mix things up for myself, I always try to hit the event from different sides each year, and it was at the very top of Fuji’s pit lane that I began my Speedhunting adventure this time around.
It’s where you find real-deal Nissan race cars, starting with the KPGC10s and their screaming S20 straight sixes. This is the car that put Nissan on the map in endurance racing right here at Fuji Speedway when the track still had its wild banked first turn.
The cut fenders covered with wide flares to house wider race rubber, a steeply raked front spoiler and Watanabe wheels – this simple yet effective approach at turning a street car into a race car never really failed. Enthusiasts still emulate this style today, with some applying it to more modern cars – something I could probably dedicate an entire post to.
Nissan’s racing heritage is as much about Skylines as it is about the Sunny, and Nismo likes to remind us of this by inviting shops that still run old B110 race cars. These things certainly don’t hang around when out on track; it’s full race mode until their session is over with. Some of these little classics lap FSW in under two minutes, which is a serious time for a modern sports car, let alone a small four-cylinder coupe from 45 years ago.
Fuji’s main paddock is always laden with tuner displays, those old names we’ve all grown up hearing about and idolized ever since. The Nismo Festival is known as a place for parts bargains, with shops discounting old stock they’ve had sitting around to try and clear stuff out before the end of the year.
So it’s not really the place to hunt out new releases or anything. However, after a quick talk with the HKS crew, I found out the famous tuning parts manufacturer will not only have some new interesting products for us GT-R owners on the market soon, but they are also building a new demo car. I bet nobody can guess what it will be.
T&E parts, anyone?
This happy camper was on a mission. There’s no way he would have shown up to a car event lugging around a little wheeled rack unless he specifically went there to buy something large, which in this case was a forged magnesium GT500 Nismo race wheel. The smile on his face said it all: mission accomplished!
To be in with a chance to snap up one of last season’s race wheels, you have to be one of the first through the gate and head straight over to the Nismo shop where race car parts are sold on a first come, first served basis.Because Race Car
The sound of a race engine being warmed up is not an easy thing to ignore – the lure is just too strong. The first pit I entered was where the two Gainer Tanax GT-Rs were stationed.
These two R35s are built for the lower GT300 tier of Super GT, and while not as fast as the far more complex 2.0-liter turbo-powered GT500 cars, they are way more interesting to look at because of there visible link to the regular street-going R35.
This is a nice visual example of how race teams are able to take an R35 and transform it into something so much more capable. Just look at the chassis modification, the extra stiffening, and how much lower and further back the VR38 sits. This frees up a lot of space ahead of the engine where the PWR radiator and intercooler are located. They aren’t even positioned in a ‘V’, more so stacked in parallel with carbon fiber guides to direct air where it needs to go.
By contrast, GT500 machines are far wilder in design and execution, almost becoming caricatures of the cars they are based off.
Wandering into the next pit, all the hairs on the back of my neck began to stand up. For someone that started following and getting into GT-Rs in the mid-1990s, it doesn’t really get any better than seeing the Penzoil R33. This car has an amazing presence, and if you put a 2008 GT500 car next to it I probably wouldn’t even notice it.
I think this guy was thinking the same. Daijiro Inada, the father of Option magazine and Japan’s aftermarket tuning movement, was at Fuji to check out some cool old race cars, just because he’s a car guy and that’s what he still likes to do on his time off. Legend.
Then all of a sudden in a wave of fury, whistles were blown, engines revved, and mechanics shouted in a typically-Japanese hysterical manner for everyone to get out of the way. Cars began to be pushed out of the garages, starting with the 2003 Motul Pitwork R34 GT-R. This V6 twin-turbo machine was used as an interim step between the R34 and Z33 in GT500.
Members of the international press and various guests then lined up for a ride in a very special car. Funnily enough, there was a laminated message stuck to the steering wheel which read, “wheel spin is banned.” I thought this was quite strange as most cars are driven out of the pits with no shortage of tire smoke.
It wasn’t until later on that it made sense – the car broke down in the middle of the track so it must have been a mechanical issue they knew about. That aside, how good does this thing looks from this angle?!
It was non-stop action in the pit lane; I could barely keep up with all the cars being pushed out and wheel spinning off for a few hot laps, and others coming in for a quick pit stop and passenger swap.
It was then time for Masami Kageyama to relive his most successful year to date. In 1998 he placed second in Formula Nippon, finished 10th at Le Mans in the R390 GT1, and then won the JGTC GT500 championship in the Penzoil R33.
This was the most extreme interpretation of the R33 before it got replaced with the BNR34 in 1999.
It was indeed a very special era in motorsports.
The 1992 R91CP was the first Japanese-driven Japanese car to win the Daytona 24-hour race.
Seeing, hearing and feeling these cars in person is something all Nissan fans out there should experience for themselves.
In the same pit garage I found two more icons which we’ve seen in detail in previous years’ coverage – the Silhouette Formula Group 4 DR30 and the Calsonic-Impul Group A GT-R
The parade of cars never seemed to stop as I made my way down pit lane, even managing to snap a few more shots of other important cars, like this 1966 Prince R380 A-1 which won the Japanese Grand Prix of the same year.Nissan’s Message For The Future
And boom, all of a sudden we jump to 2018 and what the future holds for Nissan – EVs. The way the whole Formula-E demo run was orchestrated was one of the coolest spectacles I’ve seen at the Nismo Festival. It was nothing too crazy, but it just comes at a time when we all know how important and how unavoidable the move to electric power is becoming for the automobile.
Here Nissan is showing that it’s well on board this shift; from a motorsport angle with the Formula-E race car, to an experimental angle with the two Nismo Leaf RCs, as well as a truly tangible and real angle with the production Nismo Leaf. It represents the performance side of ‘Intelligent Mobility,’ Nissan’s vision for how people will use and interact with cars in the future.
The cars did a few fast passes down the main straight giving a visual and aural display of the speed and power race EVs can generate. Sure, the sound has got nothing on a naturally aspirated V12 or a turbocharged inline six, but there was definitely some aggression to the wine of the cars’ electrical underpinnings.
With the first race of the Formula-E season only a few weeks away – at the time of the Nismo Festival – it was cool to see the car itself and the entire team including the drivers.
This was done to give the Japanese fans a first glimpse of the race car as no rounds have been planned for Japan yet.
Of all the things I saw at the Nismo Festival a few weeks back, it’s the EVs that resonated the most with me. It’s cool to see a manufacturer push boundaries in this way, and I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot more EV cars from Nissan in 2019. When the EV portion of the display in the pits was nice and quiet I took some shots of the Leaf RC.
It’s certainly an aggressively-styled car, something that makes it hard for even the most die-hard anti-EV guys out there to dismiss. Check out the cool RAYS wheels and massive Brembo brake setup.
I got to drive the first generation Nismo RC once and it was pretty mind-blowing, so I really hope Nissan will allow us media guys to see what close to a decade of evolution feels like in something like this.
As long as Nissan keeps balancing its vision of the future and not ignoring those cars that created its successful past, we should be good.
Dino Dalle Carbonare