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Thursday, 5 January 2012

Inside The Mind of Godzilla's Father


This morning, I was reading a TopGear article about Kazutoshi Mizuno (he of GT-R fatherhood). He seems great, like a funny mad professor, and his ideas on supercars are quite interesting. If you want an insight into the mind of someone capable of creating the Nissan GT-R, here are a few quotes:

"Thinking my car is too heavy is a mistake! Journalists need to develop a more professional level of thinking! The GT-R <i>needs</i> to be this weight. A lighter car does not handle. Lighter weight can be dangerous, and it will not be drivable by all customers ... All customers can easily enjoy 500bhp and get to 62 in three seconds!" - Considering the existence of the Caterham 7, Lotus Exige and BAC Mono - to name a few - I think he means lighter cars can't handle 500bhp very well.

Carrying on the same point - "Imagine an F1 car in a high-speed corner, on the best tyres in the world. An F1 car weighs over 560kg. How much downforce can an F1 car generate? Currently around 1300kg. So what is the total weight? 1860kg [GT-R + driver = 1860kg~]. A GT1 racer weighs 1200-1300kg. Plus the downforce of 600kg, and the actual weight is 1800kg. You see, very easy!"

"Oversteer is foolish. Only foolish people develop that. Actual grip car, only a clever engineer can develop. A car that makes the maximum tyre grip is not dangerous. It is important to enjoy a high-performance car, but it is more important to keep a life. Tyre grip is better than maximum engine torque."

"Tyre-grip load is the essence of performance. I want constant tyre-grip load on all four wheels, so balance is very important. That's why the GT-R has a front-mounted V6 and a rear transaxle. It is the best for balance. Everything starts with the amount of weight on all four wheels."

When asked if it's correct to say the GT-R could only have come from Japan, he replied "The GT-R is a Japanese supercar, yes. So what is Japan? All German cars are high quality and high price. American care are cheaper and not as good. Italian cars are eccentric but unreliable. Nationality is bigger than the cars. Again, what is Japan? Japan is takumi [broadly meaning skill and artisanship]. This is Japanese spirit! For example, grandmother buys kimono, mother, daughter all do the same... takumi then modifies each person's things. It is a special skill hat adds something special in the customer mind, and passes it on to the next generation. So the GT-R is takumi. I do this for the customer, not for myself or company pride."

"I am like the painter who keeps painting, in search of the perfect picture, until he dies. The GT-R is the same. Nothing is ever perfect, but we must carry on. <i>Takumi</i> mind has no set target."

You can see how his thinking translates into the world-beating GT-R, which is improved year-on year just like its Skyline forebear was. Another thing Japan is famous for is incredible attention to detail, and that shines through in spades in the GT-R. For instance, the new 2012 car has an asymmetrical suspension set-up. In Right-Hand-Drive cars, the suspension on the front-left side is slightly harder, and the ride height is a little bit lower, so that when the driver gets in the right side of the car, the suspension loads are more even in the corners. What's more, the tyres are filled with nitrogen instead of air (as they have always been in the R35), because it's more stable and less affected by temperature changes. The engine is made in a hermetically sealed lab by hand to avoid any contamination causing imperfections in the VR38DETT (3.8-litre V6 Twin-Turbo), and the GR6 double-clutch gearbox is specifically matched to the engine, so moving a gearbox from one GT-R to another wouldn't work. This is perhaps to ensure they work in perfect harmony with each other. This list of pedantic facts goes on and on and on. The same is true of the Lexus LFA, or the Honda NSX, or any other Japanese supercar.

This extreme thinking produces results, though. It is safe to say the GT-R is the fastest four-seater car in the world, with a top speed ever closer to that magic 200mph mark and Nürburgring times so fast that Porsche made the 620bhp 911 GT2 RS specifically to lap the 'ring faster. The current time for the '12 GT-R  is around 7:18, as is the '11 GT2 RS, and when the R35 came out in 2007 it was a record-breaker. Perhaps more impressive than the cornering ability is the acceleration. Thanks in part to the new LC4 launch control system, which is considered to be the best around, this 1730kg, 542bhp car can get from 0-60 in under 3 seconds every time. One test conducted by Nissan showed the car on standard tyres managing a 0-60 time of just 2.7 seconds. The Bugatti Veyron has twice as much power and only does that 0.3 seconds faster. The ultra-hardcore Ultima GTR's power-to-weight ratio of 727bhp/tonne plays the GT-R's 313bhp/tonne. The Ultima is only 0.1 seconds faster.

This is thanks of course to the GT-R's long-developed "ATTESA-ETS" All-Wheel-Drive system, which is also what helps control the weight so well, and get Mizuno-san's constant grip load on all four wheels. It monitors the car's movements 100 times per second, and distributes the power/torque accordingly. To keep the cornering sharp, it actually prefers a rear-end balance, rather than heading towards understeer like most AWD systems do for control. Skylines used to have 4-Wheel-Steering to do the same thing, but it is no longer necessary.

Setting newer GT-Rs further apart from the 2007-09 cars are a number of chassis and minor aerodynamic changes. The exterior changes are summed up on your right, with a wider upper grille opening, a new moulding in the bumper and twinkly LED lights, as is de rigueur these days. It also has a small brake vent behind the rear wheel for, er, venting brake heat. The chassis was significantly strengthened at the front, enough for them to change the chassis code from the original "CBA-R35" to "DBA-R35" in 2010 when this first happened. The engine power also jumped from 478bhp to 523bhp, which has been tweaked further for 2012 to 542bhp.

This philosophy of constant improvement, called "Kaizen" by Nissan, is evident in the video below, which shows GT-Rs from 2009, 10 and 11 in a drag race. Obviously, with a ~50 horsepower deficit, the '09 GT-R was going to come last, but that's quite a difference. Will that annoy people with pre-2010 cars? Probably, but most of the people bothered by this have probably been to Litchfield Tuning or someone similar to get that much or more out of their cars anyway. The DBA-R35 also had a strengthened gearbox and the new LC system to stop the transmission "grenading itself" under full-throttle starts and voiding the warranty/ breaking stuff that's expensive to replace (a new 'box is apparently £20k *gulp*). Mind you, if you think the cost of a new gearbox is a bit steep for a £65k car, you should've seen the CBA-R35 'V-Spec' version. Carbon fibre lids and doors matched up with a set of Brembo's finest race-grade carbon-ceramic brakes and a number of other changes to make it cost the discerning Nissan fan £125,000. For a car with only 5 more horsepower. Where did that price come from? Well, I daresay the £36,000 brakes had something to do with that. Happily the new "Track Pack" launching this year achieves basically the same thing as the V-Spec for only £10k extra.

Anyway, here's the video (skip to 1:38):

I could go on all day about the GT-R, but I'd better leave it there for now. There might be a GT5 photo dump at some point about it.

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