For the average Joe (or in my case, Jofel), the chance to drive a Nissan GT-R comes once in a lifetime. As a Scion FR-S driver, my daily routine consists of carting around in a fun but underpowered car. So when Nissan invited us to the NISMO Performance Academy to drive its legendary 500hp supercar, 370Z and NISMO Juke around the track you could imagine my excitement. As a guy with very limited track experience I had no idea what to expect. Would I be able to properly tame Godzilla? Or would it chew me up and spit me out, tires screeching into the infield?
The NISMO Performance Academy is an educational track driving event for Nissan 350Z/370Z and GT-R owners. Their instructors teach basic track skills such as cornering apex, braking and even proper seat positioning. While it's still in its testing phase, NISMO hosted three events last year at several tracks around the country, including: Lime Rock Park in Lakeville, CT, Circuit of the Americas in Austin, TX, and Homestead Miami Speedway, where we participated. As of right now the NISMO Performance Academy is exclusive to Nissan owners and select media.
After the morning ceremonies concluded we were split into groups. Each group participated in exercise sections that included Vehicle Dynamics, Driving Dynamics, Autocross and an On Track Drive. Our group began with a Vehicle Dynamics classroom session led by instructor, Michael Miller. After familiarizing ourselves with car operation and dissecting racing lines we put the pen down for a row of GT-Rs and 370Zs. Without hesitation, I hopped into a pearl white GT-R.
The first difference I noticed from my FR-S was the much sexier sequence of operations required to fire it alive. Brakes compressed, key turned and a finger press of the bright red "fighter jet" start button awoke the monster. The exhaust note isn't overwhelming at idle, but its aggressive rumble makes sure you don't forget a Japanese supercar awaits your next move. Shit was about to get real.
I've felt the distinct pull of an all-wheel drive car with my old Mitsubishi Evo IX, but pairing an AWD platform with a 545 horsepower twin-turbo V6 is a whole different ball game. Under wide open throttle your whole body sinks into the bucket seat as 463 lb-ft of torque is unleashed on the asphalt. Upshifting or downshifting, the paddle shifters seamlessly grab into the next gear. Burying the pedal for any extended period of time quickly reminds you of this car's scary fast roots. While sedate at parking lot speeds, once the rpms swing into the powerband peripheral scenery begins to blur and you better be ready to make a move.
The power to sink a man of my size into a seat is impressive, but what grabbed my attention was its stopping force. The brakes are wild. During a braking exercise, we were instructed to accelerate to speed and then smash the left pedal once passed into the coned section. During my first pass, normal street driving behaviors kicked in and I smoothly brought the car to a stop. The instructor told me to change my panties into boxer briefs and slam on the brakes. Eventually, I got them to perform as they were intended and the GT-R rapidly threw my chest into the seatbelt, stopping at a much sooner mark. Had this test been conducted in my Scion I'd be coming to a violent stop off course and past the cones.
It's no secret that the GT-R is a complete package. Past stop and go, its cornering abilities live up to the endless accolades it's garnered in this department. To corner at speed the instructors emphasized the importance of looking ahead and through a turn before we moved to the circuit portion. The track was configured into a hybrid "roval," consisting of a road course and an oval. Sighting my lines, the GT-R went wherever I wanted it to go. It eats ovals for breakfast and hunts down apexes with precision and accuracy for lunch. The Scion FR-S might respond nearly as quickly, but traction is the biggest difference. No matter how hard I turned, the GT-R stayed planted and never got tail happy. It wanted to be pushed farther than I could go.
As a n00b at best, I was initially worried about being behind the wheel of the Nissan GT-R. But after driving it at both low and high speeds, and with proper NISMO Academy instruction, I've come to the conclusion that this car is like a trained UFC fighter. On the streets it's very manageable, a complete gentleman, comfortable enough to grab a batch of cupcakes or go for a nice cruise. However, when pushed it snaps into "Bane-from-Batman-mean" and unleashes a degree of power that floors nearly all competition. Put it in the ring (or in this case a speedway) and it turns into a weapon. Pros may be the only ones able to utilize its full potential, but you don't have to be a seasoned driver to enjoy its perfect engineering. Because of this, it's no wonder it's priced four times as much as an entry-level, new-school tuner, like my FR-S. It's four times as good, maybe even more. The NISMO Performance Academy experience not only improved my driving abilities, it showcased the heart of Nissan's rich performance division. All applicable owners should make time to attend.