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ED @ Large - GT Revelations

GT-Revelations, Part 1

Feb 1, 2008

This is a situation prone to overstatement and wild exaggeration so I'll be extra careful with what I say. I've driven the new GT-R. And it's really fuckin' fast.

Last June, I was one of five US journalists invited to drive a prototype version of the GT-R, in Germany, at the Nrburgring. Yes, it was the opportunity of a lifetime, or (as I describe to my friends) like having your way with the Playmate of the Year, not only at the Mansion, but in Hef's circular bed.

Like most things you dream about (including the aforementioned extraordinarily hypothetical situation) it was over far too quickly.The GT-R represents such a massive engineering and development accomplishment that three brief encounters with it on one late spring day in Germany could never hope to uncover its full potential. To do that, I'd need at least a month with the car and a refractory period at least as long. Still, I managed to extract a few morsels of meaning that I can now share.

Country Road:My first encounter with the GT-R takes place on a country road, along with a 997 Porsche 911 Turbo. The instructions are clear: start in the Turbo, then swap into the GT-R. The GT-R will lead, so try and keep up.

OK, I made that last bit up, but that's exactly how things turn out. The stretch of road chosen for us by Nissan engineers is nothing special. Just a curvy two-lane stretch snaking away from their rented garage across the street from the Nordschleife.

For the purposes of full disclosure, this is my first time driving the 997 Turbo as well (hey, throw another Playmate of the Year on the bed while you're at it, Nissan). First revelation of the Turbo: holy shit, this thing is fast. Second revelation: the GT-R is pulling away?

Revelation #2 follows #1 on the first straightaway, a place where (naturally) I mat the 911's gas pedal, only to find a rising wave of discomfort as boost pressure and speed increases exponentially. When the turbos hit, they do so with such violence that the front end lightens considerably. On the bumpy surface of this country road, the Porsche seems to sit up on its hind legs sending the front wheels dancing over the uneven pavement. As I head toward a tight right-hander, my palms grow moist as my mind clouds with visions of a $125,000 sports car backing into either one of the ditches straddling the roadway.

Not so in the GT-R. A few minutes later, while traversing the same stretch of road in the Nissan, I recall the anxiety, but feel none of it. My sphincter is ready to clench, but the GT-R won't trigger it. Pedal down, over the same bumps, there was no lightness in the front end and no sense of impending doom. Just smoothness and speed; perhaps due to it's near-perfect weight balance under acceleration?

Autobahn:The GT-R is so fast, it slows time. Don't believe me? After the country road jaunt, I pilot the GT-R to over 170mph-a feat so staggering that I don't realize it until the next day. Sound odd, vaguely stupid? You try converting kph to mph next time you're chasing another GT-R on the autobahn.

For this second encounter, I am paired with Carlos Tavares, the number two guy at Nissan/Renault. Tavares is Brazillian, which means he was born with a steering wheel in one hand and the nuts of his rival in the other. Though rail-thin and friendly, Tavares has a core of open-wheel steel. He races several retired Formula cars, including a Nissan V6-powered Dallara in the Euro BOSS series (think historic racing for ex-Formula One cars). Tavares is not just another suit-unless it's flame retardant. Earlier in the day, he returned from a country road recon lap in a 350Z with its brakes on fire.

On the autobahn, Tavares keeps the loud pedal planted. From the moment we get in our respective GT-Rs, he is at WOT at every possible moment. I'm surprised at first, but with Nissan's #2 leading the way, you don't have to ask me twice.

Full concentration is needed as I climb past 250kph to close the five-car-length gap Tavares has put on me. Unfortunately, this is when a VW Polo decides to exercise his right to the passing lane-at half my current speed.

Nissan has engineer chaperones riding shotgun on each of our stints. Mine only has enough time to utter a quick "Oh, aiiii-haaaa" as I stomp on the brakes and tuck just behind the VW's bumper. When the Polo pulls courteously back over, I go for max. When I finally regain sight of Tavares, I note that we're a tick over 280kph.

In the airport the next day, I compare top-speed notes with the other journos. Turns out 280kph is as fast as anyone else dared go. Just over 173mph. I'm surprised-it felt slower.

Next issue: How the GT-R runs on an F1 track.

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