Nismo Performance Academy Details:
When Nissan's performance division Nismo invites you to a Nismo Performance Academy the unquestionable answer is yes. The Nismo Performance Academy is an exclusive track driving event for Nissan 350Z/370Z and GT-R owners. Under the guidance of professional instructors, Nissan owners and I got to drive the GT-R, 370Z and the brand new Nismo Juke around a racetrack. The latest event took place at Homestead Speedway in Florida. The schedule of events was classified as a "roval," which consists of a road course and an oval. More importantly though was the instructor provided education to push these fine sports cars to the driver's edge.
Multiple types of corners made up the road course such as increasing to decreasing radius with a little bit of elevation change. Going into the Academy I knew I'd learn plenty as someone with limited prior track time. What I didn't anticipate was learning the smaller things such as proper seat positioning. Your rear end should be against the back of the seat, shoulder blades against the upright and adjust the legs first. Your legs shouldn't be fully locked when pressing the pedals to the floor which will give you leverage. Once your legs are adjusted you can tilt the steering wheel or the upright. You want to be able to put to your hands past the steering wheel and let them drop. When they make contact with the wheel it should hit your watchband, which will also give you leverage.
We were then told that there would be prizes of "unspeakable value" at the end of the day. After the opening ceremonies we were placed in different groups. The day consisted of different sections I was placed in the black group where we started off in a Vehicle Dynamics classroom. Michael Miller introduced us to the dynamics of how the car operates and a few tips on dissecting the racing lines of the course.
Next was the Driving Dynamic Course which was made up of four different segment exercises. This section exposed both safety and performance insight. I hopped into the Nissan GT-R and lined up for the first exercise: Accelerating into a quick left turn and immediate stop. The second exercise was a complete opposite where the braking point was followed by a hard right. The third exercise emphasized safety. Students were told to bury the gas pedal in the floor before applying heavy brake and stopping at a marked section of the straight. After mastering this exercise the instructor challenged me to brake past the coned section just to demonstrate the GT-R and the Z's stopping force. The fourth slalom-between-cones exercise was the most complicated. After maneuvering the factory cars in a winding course my instructor informed me that my first runs were a bit wide, but I eventually tightened it up. Practice was the key to all of these exercises.
Autocross practice took place in the go-kart section of the track. For those unfamiliar with autocross, think of it as a mini race course. For this part of the day we hopped into the Nismo Juke, which was the biggest surprise of the day. No matter how hard I cornered, no matter how much the tires screamed, the car did everything I asked it to do. Of course, it wasn't as fast as the GT-R or the Z, but it still made for a fun drive.
Track Drive Intro segment had GT-R and Z owners take their cars to the "roval" track. Luckily for me they had a few Nissan GT-Rs to spare. We ran the track at a very manageable pace and even stopped at a few key corners to discuss the manner in which to approach the corner, get through the corner, and how to perform better in the corner. We even stopped on the banking section where the angle made it feel like we could roll out of the car if not strapped in.
The Track Drive segment was the most exciting part of the day. We returned back to the track. There was a lead instructor for every three drivers. This time we weren't going granny speed and picked up the pace greatly. We were able to drive both the Nissan 370Z and the Nissan GT-R. Each of the three drivers was given the chance to drive behind the instructor who was communicating through a walkie-talkie.
You might think why run a Z when GT-Rs are up for grabs? To be quite honest, the Z was just fun as the GT-R. Nissan's Syncro Rev Match of the 370Zs made shifting seamless. Back in the old days, revving the RPM to match road and engine speed between shifts was an art in itself. With Rev Match the computer does all the work and revs the engine for you. With all that power to the rear wheel it was a tail-happy car. When following the pack I may have had a little too much fun power sliding -eventually spinning out. In terms of power and grip, the GT-R is a whole different monster. It's no wonder why they call the car Godzilla, the acceleration is an adrenalin rush I've never felt before.
In addition, we had an autocross competition. Now I don't want to brag, but I was only two seconds away from the fastest guy that day which was fellow black group member Stefan Abhiram. Stefan has owned three GT-Rs so far. "I had a 2010 Super Silver, 2012 Black Edition, and a 2013 Black Edition," says Abhiram. "But the track edition is a brutal car. You feel the seats hugging you, you feel the car gripping around the corner, you can feel the suspension change. You probably wouldn't feel it on the street, but on the track definitely." Abhiram flew all the way Houston, Texas and was excited to meet the Nismo executives. "The overall experience was amazing! The cars work tremendously well. They really take care of you."
After the driving school I sat down and chatted with Carl Phillips the Chief Marketing Manager for Nismo and Nissan North America. "The Nismo Performance Academy is our effort to get customers to come out to a track and learn about their car's abilities and their capabilities as a driver. We want to bring people out and let them really feel the excitement these Nismo cars deliver. As of right now the event is free to Nismo owners who can bring a guest with them. There's a great mix of people, some who are real hardcore performance seekers, but also a lot of people who have never done a track event in their life."
One of the major things I will take away in track racing is to look ahead. It's all about the eye work. The farther you look the better. Look where you want to be next for example around the corner or down the straightaway.
During the closing ceremony awards were given out to the winner of the team with the highest score in Nismo Jeopardy as well as the fastest autocross time. It turned out the prizes included GoPro cameras with the grand prize being a custom Nismo helmet. But really in the end, the experiences that day were of "unspeakable value." It's one of those things that you'll never forget in your life. Especially that moment you spin out of control in a Nismo 370Z when the instructors weren't looking.