Auto Modellista - Ebbro 1/43 Nissan GT-R Debut Win And 1-2 Finish Memorial Set
Since my first Auto Modellista article was about the 2003 championship winning R34 GT-R I thought this second one should be about the next milestone in the GT-R's legendary Super GT career.
After Nismo won the 2003 driver's and team's championships in impressive fashion the R34 GT-R retired on a high note. At that time however Nissan didn't have a successor yet so the job of defending the company's honor would fall to the recently resurrected Fairlady Z (the 350Z to us gaijin). The 2004 Nismo GT500 Fairlady Z would fill that role impressively in it's debut season by successfully defending both titles but then Nissan fell into a bit of a drought again. Although the Z would retain the team title for another year in 2005 that was the last title the Fairlady would garner during its time in the top category.
With no driver's titles for three straight years 2008 would have been a critical year for Nismo to begin with. The tension ratcheted up big time however when Nissan announced that the legendary GT-R nameplate would be returning to its road car lineup as well as motorsports. Nismo debuted its sleek new R35 race car and immediately expectations ran high.
The new racer proved fast from the get-go. In early testing the R35 test cars were blitzing the field serving to put Lexus and Honda on notice that Nissan was back with a vengeance. Nismo had taken the lessons learned with the previous Fairlady Z GT500 car and made the new R35 version even lighter and put a VK45DE V8 racing motor in to replace the twin-turbo VQ V6s they had previously used. The new car had more drag than the Z but in exchange it had higher downforce for higher cornering speeds.
|The 2008 GT-R GT500 Test Car
It wouldn't take long for the new GT-R to show its astonishing capabilities in the crucible of actual racing. The road car had already been making waves in the automotive media and would go on to win numerous “Car of the Year” honors - although the race car was a very different animal, it would prove to be just as sensational. In it's debut race at the Suzuka 300K the R35 would stun its rivals by locking out the top three spots in qualifying and being the only car to run 1 minute 51 second second lap times. The pole-winning #22 Motul Autech GT-R in the hands of former champion Michael Krumm ended up being a full second clear of the fastest non-Nissan!
Speaking of their rivals, since the R34 had retired Toyota had also changed race cars. After one final championship win by the Supra in 2005, Lexus successfully debuted the SC430. Despite being an oddly-styled boulevard cruiser for old people in street car guise (famously named by Top Gear as “The worst car in the history of the world”) the race version of the SC was able to win the GT500 title in its debut year of 2006. The following year Honda fought back and the evergreen NSX took the title with Daisuke Ito and Ralph Firman piloting.
|The #36 Petronas Tom's Lexus SC430
|Best of the NSX's for 2008 - The #100 Raybrig car.
With their opponents taking the titles in previous years Nissan had a point to prove with the return of the GT-R to Super GT. The first race would drive that point home. The top three GT-Rs sped off and were looking to set off and leave the pack behind but unfortunately the #12 Calsonic in third was shunted by Andre Lotterer in the fourth-place Lexus. A tap from behind sent the GT-R spinning backwards into the tire barriers demolishing the rear end. Team Impul would repair the car and get it back in the race but at that point it was strictly to gather data with the new car.
That left the two Nismo GT-Rs all alone to show they were a cut above the rest. As lap after lap went by the two red, silver, and black machines extended their lead, leaving their rivals to fight for the scraps. They drove nose-to-tail with the #22 retaining the lead until the pit stops came. The #23 car driven by Benoit Treluyer came in first and handed the reins to multi-time champion Satoshi Motoyama. The sister car came in one lap later and was able to exit still ahead of the Xanavi car but cold tires meant that the Motul R35 was ripe for an overtake. Coming out of Suzuka's hairpin Masataka Yanagida tried to put the power down but the cold rubber meant the #22 GT-R fishtailed like something you would see from a showoff leaving a typical Cars and Coffee. Motoyama sailed by as his teammate fought to get his car back under control.
|The memorial set is sealed so I wasn't able to take close-up photos. Instead here's the championship commemorative version.
From that point on it was clear sailing for the two GT-Rs. At the end the two were less than a second apart but their nearest rival was 24 seconds behind. The “R” was back with a vengeance.
The story would repeat itself with the next round at Okayama. Motoyama and Treluyer picked up where they had left off and staged a pole-to-finish win despite the reward ballast from the previous win. The #12 Calsonic car would take second for yet another Nissan 1-2. The #22 car DNF'ed unfortunately.
At that point the Super GT sanctioning body realized the R35s were threatening to decimate the competition so they exercised their option to adjust the performance equalization allotments for the GT-Rs. The Nissans suddenly gained a large weight handicap coming into the third round at Fuji. The slowing of the GT-Rs and with Fuji being their home track meant that Lexus were able stem the bleeding with a win by the #38 Zent Cerumo car.
If Honda and Lexus thought the performance adjustment meant things would now go their way, that belief would be shattered with the fourth round in Malaysia. In the heat of Sepang the #24 WoodOne Advan GT-R's Yokohama rubber would take it to the top step of the podium.
With the GT-Rs doing so well the reward ballast was piling up and Honda took that chance to win at the fifth round at Sportsland Sugo. After that though it seemed the GT-Rs had just thrown their rivals a bone because from that point on only Nissans would stand at the top.
At the big 1000km race in Suzuka Team Impul would put their blue car in first once again despite a wet race. Moving to Motegi it was the turn of the #3 YMS Yellowhat car would take a win. This meant all the Nissan teams had scored a race win at this point.
As if trying to say the back-to-back wins at the start of the season weren't enough to show they were deserving champions, Motoyama and Treluyer took a third win at the eighth round in Autopolis. The Calsonic car would put an exclamation point on the GT-R's dominance by wining the last race at Fuji but the star of the season was the #23 car. With their strong run from the very start Satoshi Motoyama and Benoit Treluyer would bring the driver's title back in stunning fashion to Nismo.
In GT300 Nissan had more cause to celebrate as the #46 Mola Z with Hironobu Yasuda and Kazuki Hoshino took the title by a single point over the #43 Arta Garaiya.
With Super GT using intake restrictors, weight handicaps, and reward ballast to equalize the field we'll probably never see a time again when the GT-R will rack up double-digit win streaks like with the PGC10 and the R32 but 2008's dominant performance would show that the R35 was a worthy successor to its legendary forebears – and it all began with a debut 1-2 finish that Ebbro memorialized with this rare double car model set.