This year’s NISMO Festival was a special one, as it marked the event’s 20th anniversary. The inaugural NISMO Festival in 1997 was a small gathering put together by NISMO employees as a customer appreciation day. Nissan factory drivers showed up to interact with fans, and the big draw was Nissan’s then-new R390 GT1 Le Mans racer. Two decades later, the event has grown to a massive proportions. Despite wintry temperatures, 28,000 fans made the journey to Fuji Speedway this year.
That figure is truly staggering. For comparison, JCCS, by far the biggest vintage Japanese show in North America, attracts 6,000-7,000 people each year. The NISMO Festival turned out four times that number for a single marque.
“When the event was first held in 1997, here and there the event had a hand-made feel to it,” said NISMO president Takao Katagiri. “But the more we held this festival, the more knowhow we accumulated and our employees have greatly enriched their creativity and inventiveness. However, the underlying feeling of appreciation for our fans has not changed since the very first festival.”
While the event is a showcase for all of Nissan’s motorsports endeavors, each year there are certain themes. Last year, for example, the focus was on specialty race cars such as the R381 and R382. This year, it was all about the Skyline for its 60th anniversary year.
The centerpiece of the NISMO Festival, and what sets it apart from other events, is the fact that its priceless race cars are not just displayed in the paddocks and along pit row, but each one is also run in demo laps throughout the day.
This year, cars from Nissan’s Zama warehouse were joined by privately owned Hakosuka GT-R race replicas, in both the 1971 stripe and 1972 dual-color race livery. Not only did the audience get a hint of what it was like to see these legendary touring cars give birth to a generation of racing fans, but they go to see them alongside their spiritual successors, the Group A R32s.
One of the highlights of 2017 was the running of the 1972 Tokyo Motor Show Kenmeri GT-R. Scheduled to make its motorsports debut in 1973 (hence the door number), it never made it due to the oil embargo that year. Seeing the priceless prototype, the only factory works Kenmeri GT-R, run at Fuji Speedway provided a bittersweet taste of what could have been.
Another car that is rarely shown, much less run, is the 1988 R31 Skyline GTS-R, prepared for the European Touring Car Championships. Though it didn’t win the series, it came in a respectable sixth at the 24 Hours of Spa that year.
The fan favorite R32 Skyline GT-R was represented by not just the beloved Calsonic Blue livery. This year, it was joined by the iconic HKS and Advan cars as well. It was like the Group A battles of the early 90s all over again. You can watch an in-car view of Keiichi “Drift King” Tsuchiya reprise his role behind the wheel of the Taisan Advan STP car.
As a run-up to the R390 GT1, Nissan campaigned heavily modified R33 Skyline GT-Rs to Le Mans in 1995-96. Coming in as high as fifth place overall, quite a feat for a production car-based entry, the racers inspired the near-mythical R33 Skyline GT-R LM road car.
Representing the JGTC era were the Pennzoil R33 and R34 Skyline GT-R, dragged from their slumber at the Zama warehouse. Both were formidable machines in their respective seasons of 1998-99, and it was a rare opportunity to see them run side by side.
Today, the GT-R’s touring car lineage continues with the SuperGT R35s. These modern day Godzillas don’t even sound like real cars as they charge through the Fuji straight, the noise reverberating off the grandstands.
Aside from the action on the track, the festival had displays of everything from Kyosho model cars to complete cars by Mine’s. Nissan of course had a display of their new cars for potential customers to peruse.
Among the more memorable booth cars was a brilliantly bonkers Nissan NV350 Caravan dressed in BRE livery and slammed on Longchamp XR-4s.
In the paddock area, the booth village was centered around the NISMO Heritage Parts display and its white body R32 Skyline GT-R. It was there to show Nissan’s newly launched reproduction parts program. Some of the new parts, including a complete front bumper cover, were exhibited behind the chassis.
In the stand event area, fans lined up to buy event-only merchandise, garage sale and NISMO part bargains.
Owners of NISMO cars were also given a chance to drive their own cars on Fuji Speedway. Having taken a few laps at this hallowed raceway, it is a humbling affair. The late apexes and off-camber turns can be terrifying at speed, but the experience is unforgettable.
A walk along the pits brings fans in touch with other famous racing Nissans of yore. One paddock was devoted completely to Group 5 Super Silhouette cars, the Coca-Cola 910 Bluebird, Nichira S12 Silvia and Tomica DR30 Skyline. It’s a shame these cars didn’t go out onto the track, but they still look glorious just standing still.
Throughout the day, TS Cup races were held. The popular vintage series is populated with B110 and B310 Sunnys, which explains the surge of parts for the A-series engine.
For ¥3,000 yen, you can get a pair of tickets for the “Circuit Safari.” It allows you to experience the track on a bus as race cars roar around you. It’s the perfect solution for kids, or for those who didn’t have an eligible car for the parade laps.
By 4:00 pm the show was over, and so was the gathering of Godzillas. Since many of them are not owned by Nissan, was a rare opportunity to see so many generations together, in motion, at the circuit that defined the Skyline GT-R legacy. “As this will be a milestone NISMO Festival,” president Takagiri said prior to the start, “We are determined to put on an event that people will remember for years to come.” Job well done, we’d say.
Images courtesy of Nissan, NISMO.