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Monday 7th November 2011


DRIVEN: NISSAN GT-R GT1 RACER

They're hoping to clinch the GT1 World Championship this weekend, and for some reason they let Riggers have a go in one



One of the problems with this job (and I freely admit that there aren't that many) is that you can't simply say that 'words can't describe' what something is like. Because that's exactly what we have to do.

And yet I'm sitting here contemplating how to portray what it's like to drive a c. £750k, 650bhp GT1 race car around Silverstone. And words can't describe the experience...


I wrote those words minutes after testing the frankly extraordinary Sumo Power Nissan GT-R GT1 and, although it has been a few months since I drive Peter Dumbreck and Michael Krumm's company car, I still don't know what to write.

In fact, that's been one of the main reasons behind dawdling for so long over getting the story written. But this weekend is the last round of the GT1 World championship, and the number 23 JRM Nissan (now in the hands of Michael Krumm and Lucas Luhr), has a shot at helping Nissan clinch both the drivers' and teams' championships, so it seemed a fine time to attempt it.

The first thing you notice as you clamber into the cockpit is how intimidating everything seems. Aside from a fairly stern lecture from team principal Andy Barnes, along the lines of "this is three-quarters of a million quid of racing car, so do what we say and please bring it back in one piece", there are knobs, dials, switches, tubes and bare metal everywhere, leaving you in no doubt that this is a tool for going fast in, not a plaything to flatter your driving.


Having said that, the thoroughly affable Jamie Campbell-Walter, who drives the other Sumo Power GT-R with David Brabham, is rather more relaxed (possibly because this one's not his race car). "You actually have to be quite brutal with it - especially the gearchange - which really doesn't respond to half-hearted tugs at low revs."

He's right. Part of the deal for getting to drive this car is, of all things, to do some tracking driving for the Gadget Show (they were testing HD cameras, apparently), so I have to spend a certain amount of trundling behind the camera car with the transmission whining, chuntering and jerking away, before being allowed to give the car its head.

And boy is it quick. Put some proper revs into the big V8, pull back and forth on the stick-shift sequential with a bit of verve when the shift lights wink (no fancy paddles here - GT1 is designed to be old-school), and the GT-R stops being a grumbling, coughing scary thing and becomes something that scares largely because of its epic pace.


But it's a surprisingly approachable beast. That V8 might have its origins in the Titan pick-up truck, and its 650bhp runs through the rear wheels only (and with no traction control or ABS), but it feels neither overly agricultural nor unapproachably highly strung. In fact it feels quite friendly, almost as though it's been designed for ham-fists such as me...

It has bags more grip than I have balls, relentless, eye-watering straight-line shove and brakes that seem to work magic, once they're warm and once you've learned to hit them hard enough - this is not a car that responds to delicate inputs. It is, in short brilliant.

Inevitably (of course) I get carried away, lulled into a false sense of security by the apparently forgiving handling, and head into the left hander by the pits with more speed than is sensible and a line that is definitely stupid. The big Nissan reminds me then that it is a heavy, fast GT car - not a lightweight special. I got it slowed down and around the corner, but only just. This is definitely a car you need to be a pro to get the best from. Jamie reckons it's actually quite like the TVR Tuscans he used to race - a bit of a hot rod - albeit rather more polished in its behaviour.


Sadly, after only three fast laps my time with a genuinely top-line racing car is over and I reluctantly trundle back into the pits, heart racing, eyes on stalks and more or less unable to put a sentence together.

So what conclusions can I draw from what must undoubtedly be one of the most exhilarating, mind-blowing drives I will ever experience? Firstly, I have infinite respect for the likes of proper pros such as David Brabham and Jamie Campbell-Walter, not merely for their ability to extract 100 per cent from a 650bhp car with zero driver aids, but also for their capacity to extract themselves from the car after a test session or race stint and not be gibbering, grinning, idiotic wrecks.

Oh, and sadly I have also fallen a little out of love with the roadgoing version of the GT-R - because if it hasn't got a 5.5-litre V8, slick tyres and rear-wheel drive it just won't feel quite right...

You can follow the progress of the Nissans at the Lago Potrero de los Funes circuit in Argentina with live coverage on: www.gt1world.com/gt1tv

Author: Riggers