For the past three years, Australian GT-R owners have gathered for a group drive to Mount Panorama, Bathurst to celebrate the high performance Nissan model in a place of historical significance to it.
This year saw almost 50 GT-Rs grouping up, much to the surprise of the event’s organiser, Ricardo Williams, and also to the attendees. The weather was perfect, the cars were running well, and the mountain was inviting.
The Mount Panorama race track is located about three hours’ drive west of Sydney. It’s arguably Australia’s most famous track, and today hosts important events like the Bathurst 12 Hour endurance race for GT3 and GT4 cars. It’s also the place where the iconic Bathurst 1000 is contested.
About 30 years ago, Nissan and race team boss Fred Gibson introduced the R32 GT-R to Mount Panorama, seeing incredible success with it. The R32 won both the ’91 and ’92 races, leaving no chance for the Group A competition that at the time was primarily comprised of Ford Sierra RS500 Cosworths.
Wheels magazine, predicting the success of the GT-R in Australian Group A racing, ran a cover photo of the R32 in July 1989. It was in this specific publication that the model was referred to as ‘Godzilla’ for the first time. The nickname has stuck to the three-letter badge ever since, and the coupe’s fame at Bathurst remains strong more than 30 years on.
The event at the centre of this story is a gathering to celebrate the GT-R’s successes at Mount Panorama. It starts early in the morning, with all cars grouping at a service station in the outskirts of Sydney. Not any service station though – this one dispenses both premium 98RON and E85 to meet the demands of cars including the high-powered GT-Rs Australia is known for. For the day ahead, fuel tanks and jerry cans were filled to their brims.
It’s a great atmosphere. The service station and the parking spots surrounding it are filled with nothing but GT-Rs. All models are welcome, from R32s to R35s, stock cars to highly modified ones, standard and rare models alike. Owners hang around the service station for half an hour or so, catching up on conversation and preparing for the drive.
The roads connecting Sydney to Bathurst are well kept and the scenery is picturesque. Road traffic on the day was not particularly heavy either, allowing those attending the event to enjoy the drive.
Anyone who has been on group drives before (most of us reading this, I am sure) would be quite familiar with the sense of thrill you get from taking part in such events. It’s rather exciting looking around you and seeing likeminded enthusiasts and their cars on the road. Dozens of GT-Rs together have quite the road presence; a rather imposing sight. You also get to feel a sense of community and belonging that cannot be felt in online groups and on forums, only in person. Driving with fellow enthusiasts is great, and when they are driving similar cars it’s even better.
Two hours after leaving the initial meeting spot, we arrived in Bathurst and headed to Mount Panorama. The race track is actually set on a public road, and anyone can drive up and around it if they wish. Being a sunny Sunday, many other cars were doing casual laps around the 6km long circuit.
Our GT-Rs lined up on the front straight against the concrete barrier that separates it from the pit lane, one after the other and in no particular order. Of course, a line-up of nearly 50 GT-Rs (47 to be precise) attracts a lot of attention.
People driving and walking along the track were turning their necks to a great extent. It was quite the sight parking by the main straight and seeing so many GT-Rs together.
But it wasn’t only cars; these GT-Rs were only here because people enjoy owning and driving them. And bringing all these people together makes up a considerable part of the pilgrimage to Bathurst. GT-R owners of Sydney and the surrounding areas constitute a varied crowd, with a mixture of different age groups, cultural backgrounds and walks of life. The love for cars, and the love for this badge in particular, unites them in a special way. It feels nice to be part of such a group.
After parking on the front straight for a while and enjoying the spectacle, all cars headed out for a few somewhat spirited laps around the circuit. RBs with open wastegates and VRs could be heard in the distance as they made their way up the track. Mount Panorama has 174 metres of elevation within it, so you quickly realise why having big horsepower makes sense on this course.
It also contains fairly tight corners, requesting a high degree of nimbleness from the cars that race on it. Once you drive Mount Panorama, you understand why the BNR32 was so successful here; it addressed some of the circuit’s requirements much better than the competition at the time.
After a few laps, some cars parked at the very top of the track at a section known as The Esses (for its obvious ‘S’ shape) to enjoy the view.
From here you can see how much elevation you gain when driving up and why this place is called Mount Panorama. For the rest of the morning, people were driving around the track, stopping here and there for photos and a chat, and then driving again.
A couple of hours after arriving at Bathurst, the GT-R crowd started to dissipate. Some headed over to the town centre for lunch, while others began making their way back home.
On the highway, you could still spot GT-Rs here and there. Everyone was winding down from the excitement of the day, but it was still a thrill to spot fellow enthusiasts on the road back to Sydney.
Afterwards, both Ricardo Williams and Andrew Hawkins uploaded videos online that sum up the day nicely, and they’re worth checking out.
Ricardo tells me he never intended this cruise to become as big as it has; he simply started it as a way to go for a drive with his friends and to visit the circuit that helped make the GT-R the legend it is in Australia. Today, the event means a lot to him, and it’s humbling for Ricardo to see the love people share for the GT-R and its Australian history. He now feels responsible to make the event even better as it grows, ensuring GT-R owners and enthusiasts alike have a good time.
It was great being out again and enjoying the Godzilla, and it was especially good doing so at the moment as we weather this pandemic.
Personally, it was only the third car-related event I attended this year. It is nice to be amongst likeminded people and making new connections, and hopefully this event will only grow bigger in the years to come.
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