A celebration of all things Nissan and racing, the annual NISMO Festival held by the Nissan mothership in Japan. For one late November day, legendary racing machines are dusted off and emerge from their Zama hibernation to roar across the hallowed tarmac of Fuji Speedway.
Our sherpa was once again Yuichi Ikegaya, shacho of Utilitas, a Skyline and Land Cruiser specialty shop based in western Tokyo. Since this was Nissan nirvana, the proper support vehicle was an Elgrand, basically a JDM Quest with much cooler lights.
On display at the booth was a FJ20ET-powered DR30 in classic black and red, and the ultimate sleeper, an Autech R33 GT-R sedan.
A walk through the paddocks revealed a collection of racing heroes rarely seen outside of the Zama warehouse, starting with the R92CP, a car that clinched both the JSPC (Japan Sports Prototype Championships) driver’s and constructor’s championships three years in a row. Lurking in the back was the dream team R91P — driven by Masahiro Hasemi, Kazuyoshi Hoshino, and Toshio Suzuki — that became the first Japanese car to win the 24 Hours of Daytona back in 1992.
Back in September, Nissan made the unprecedented move of bringing two Zama cars to the US for display at the Japanese Classic Car Show. One of them was the sister car to this, the 1997 R390 GT1 Le Mans car. The #23 car, driven by Kazuyoshi Hoshino, Erik Comas and Masahiko Kageyama, was the only one of three to finish the race.
Prototypes are otherworldly, but there remains something awe-inducing about a Le Mans challenger that’s actually somewhat related to a road car. Though still drastically different from the production car it was based on — it was rear-wheel-drive and ran a 6-speed sequential transmission, for instance — the Group N-spec R33 GT-R was still powered by an RB26DETT. Sure, it was tuned to 400 horsepower, but the fact that you could buy a car that similar to a fifth-in-class finisher at Le Mans is nothing short of incredible.
OG Gran Turismo fans will remember with fondness the twin Pennzoil R34 GT-Rs that dominated JGTC during its golden age. Champions in both 1998 and 1999, they hailed from the tuning Renaissance, right before Nissan almost went bankrupt and the sport’s rebranding to SuperGT.
There are few machines that contributed more to the legend of Godzilla than the Calsonic Group A GT-R. From its debut in 1989 to the conclusion of the All-Japan Championships four years later, the R32 GT-R won every single race it participated in. The blue Team Calsonic car was perhaps the most memorable, bookending an unparalleled winning streak by taking the championships in 1990 and 1993.
Beside the R32 was its predecessor, the Hasemi R31 2000GTS-R. Based on one of 800 seventh-gen Skylines powered by the RB20DET-R, it was tuned to an estimated 430 horsepower and won the 1989 Group A championships. It was the meat in a Skyline dominance sandwich, which began with the R30 in 1985 and lasted until 1993.
By 2003 JGTC cars began looking less and less like their road-going counterparts. Revised aerodynamics gave it a snake-like head and almost certainly better downforce generation, but are we alone in thinking it had less heartstring-tugging ability?
By 2007 the Z33-based Fairlady Z was promoted from GT300 to GT500 class, where it was more of a placeholder while we awaited for the R35 GT-R to arrive.
Beyond the Zama cars, however, Nissan also invited privateer racers to bring their own cars. In the somewhat less glamorous pit lane, Hiroaki Usui poses with his Usui Racing TS Cup Sunny.
Then Nissan let the cars loose for an exhibition race, and for a moment it was like the Fuji Speedway of old all over again, minus the old high-speed banking. Though the field was filled mostly with Sunnys from the vintage TS Cup series, a 510 Bluebird and hakosuka Skyline led the way.
Nissan took its own priceless collection onto the track as well, as buses loaded with fans embarked on what Nissan calls a “Circuit Safari,” driving (at much slower speeds) alongside the race cars.
For the die-hard Nissan nut, there is no greater event on Earth. We will have more from the NISMO Festival, including the story of Nissan’s epic smackdown of the Toyota 7, Super Silhouette racers, and a new line of scale models. To be continued…
Yuichi Ikegaya is founder of Utilitas, a DR30 and Land Cruiser specialty shop in Tokyo.
Images: Utilitas, NISMO