Sonic Blue is best blue.
Today, I share with LALD my latest possession: a 2002 Nissan NISMO Skyline GT-R R34 GT500 in the iconic #12 Calsonic-Impul livery. Purely coincidental then that this post is published on the 12th day of the second month of 2017. Also thanks to whoever runs Nissan global’s social team for reposting the following photo - something that was completely unexpected and made my day. Now onto the history lesson.
There are few more iconic shapes from the ‘90s era of JDM automobilia than that of the Nissan Skyline GTR. Often regarded as the pinnacle of the Racing Bred series of chassis developed under NISMO, the BNR34 has captured the hearts and minds of millions. While the road car flourished in the hands of Japan’s best tuners, it’s career in the All Japan Grand Touring Car Championship (JGTC) is a different story.
Being Canadian, we didn’t get much (if any) coverage for the JGTC here (glossing over the fact that I was but a wee lad when the car actually competed) so my exposure to the iconic Sonic Blue of Team Impul’s Calsonic Skyline hadn’t come until years after it was retired. Specifically, it was in Gran Turismo 4 for the PS2 where my admiration for both cars and motorsports alike was brought to light.
As a kid I thought the Skyline looked like the perfect racecar. Low and wide, big wing, lots of power. I had yet to really understand how great it was to drive until my later years, but one thing I did know for certain: it was both amazing to look at and good fun to play with. I mean, how can you go wrong with a solid body colour and contrasting white sponsor decals (plus matching wheels)!? Although admittedly (and rather embarrassingly) I did originally think the dry fuel breaks at the rear of the car was the exhaust.
500PS might not seem like a lot but it’s plenty to shift this incredibly nimble car. At 1150kg or so, it’s not quite Group C weight but it’s perfectly matched to the power level. Going through the gears without a semi-automatic gearbox, TCS, and sophisticated aero ... it’s surprisingly well balanced through the corners and it garners plenty of respect for the drivers of the time.
Here I find myself going back to playing GT4 (emulated on PCSX2) a decade layer, albeit with some sim-racing experience under my belt. Even on a controller you can get this car to set some pretty good lap times! There isn’t as much feedback obviously, but if you can manage the power band just right the car explodes out of the corner with no lag at all. a 53 second lap at Tsukuba circuit is nothing to scoff at, though I am curious what kind of times the car will set on a modern set of slicks. Also ran a lap at Fuji International Speedway just for nostalgia sake.
Now for some history:
While the R34 GT500 shares many of the same characteristics as the road going counterpart, it in fact shares more DNA with the R33 GT500 that preceeded it. At the time manufacturers competing in the JGTC were all moving at an unbelievable pace - Nissan in particular saw alternating years of success and sub-par performances, with privateer teams fielding older machinery (Silvias) struggling to keep up. NISMO tried everything to combat rivals Toyota and Honda, going so far as to drop the Le Mans spec RB26DETT (albeit bored to 2.8L) into the 1998 R33 GT1 and moving its positioning to produce an ideal COG.
1999 brought with it brand new R34 GT500 chassis for the top teams, with the RB28 making a return to power Godzilla. Kazuyoshi Hoshino of Team Impul (formerly Hoshino Racing) entered one of such chassis under the iconic Calsonic-Kansei sponsorship. However, over seven rounds only one was won by an R34 - the Pennzoil GTR, who would later go on to claim the driver’s title that year thanks to Erik Comas’ four podium finishes.
The JGTC underwent significant technical revisions in 2000, namely the ban of electronic driving aids (including telemetry) and balance of performance by way of restrictors (plus success ballast). This season was a nearly a complete reversal of ‘99, with the NISMO GTR driven by Comas taking victory at the opening round (Motegi). Two more rounds would be won by GTRs, each from a different team; the other NISMO car took victory in Sepang, and the Calsonic-Impul car in Mine. Honda would go on to beat NISMO to the drivers title but GTRs filled the remaining two spots on the podium, with Team Impul taking 3rd in the standings.
The following year was absolutely dismal. Only three GTRs were entered (two from NISMO, one from Impul) but Nissan overall struggled to match the competition. While the Xanavi GTR would see victory at Mt. Fuji, the Calsonic GTR would only see retirements for the latter half of the season.
2002 would be the last year of the RB28DETT engine, before NISMO introduced the VQ30DETT V6 to ahead of the updated regulations for 2003. Three GTRs were entered once again, but this was intended to be a throwaway year to re-engineer the cars properly. The Calsonic-Impul car still used the RB for the first half of the season but for the rounds with the VQ installed, they either retired or finished near last.
2002 would also mark the last year Hoshino would drive for the team, having announced his retirement to a management position for Team Impul. Hoshino, who had been with racing with Nissan since 1995, brought the team consistent podium finishes but only saw victory twice (once in the R33, once in the R34).
NISMO saw even better success in 2003; the revised technical regulations allowed not only wider fenders but also mandatory tube-frame structures at the front and rear of the chassis, permitting better suspension geometry. In addition to the VQ30 that was introduced before, the transmission was also moved to the rear of the car giving the reborn R34 GT500 incredible balance and straight line speed.
All three GTR’s had the speed to contest for the title in the R34's swansong year. While NISMO’s factory team took a single race win, the Impul car at the hands of pre-Audi Benoit Truleyer would go on to take victory twice: once at Mt. Fuji and again at the season finale at Suzuka.
The rapid pace of development in the JGTC, along with the open war between constructors, is something truly special that you don’t see in the regulated motorsports of today. Manufacturers had the open reign to choose between component suppliers - everything from tires, fluids, brakes, etc.
Not many technical details are supplied with the AutoArt model, but given what I can remember from the technical regulations there are a few things I know for certain. All of NISMO’s GTRs used Bridgestone Potenza slicks for the duration of the R34 season. Three compounds were available each race weekend with two selected by Nissan and the third drawn by a lottery (much like F1 today).
The tires are mounted on 18" NS-GT IIs designed by Team Impul themselves, with width likely being minimum 300mm (12"). While some teams went with Brembo or Endless, NISMO elected to go with the tried and true AP Racing system with (pre-J hook) slotted and ventilated rotors - 355mm (14") for the front and an equally beefy 300mm (12") for the rear, would be my guess.
A small detail that is likely easily glossed over is the centrelocks on the NS-GT IIs are colour coded in the same fasion as a Carrera GT: red for the left side, blue for the right. Also you can see just how low and far back the driver has to sit in these GT500 cars to keep the balance ideal. Despite that, the driver still has near perfect visibility thanks to the low dashboard as shown by this onboard with Alex Buncombe in the Pennzoil NISMO R34 GT500 at the Nismo Festival last year.
The track is wet but just look at how he’s struggling to put the power down! These early R34s are truly beasts and quite captivating on video.
Prior to the 2003 revamp, there was no real provision for under-body aerodynamics in the GT500 class other than a flat floor, so most of the aero management was done on the exterior of the car. To counteract the lack of a diffuser NISMO introduced a massive oversized wing with both a gurney flap and vortex generators on the leading edge. The mounting brackets are designed in such a way to add additional leverage on the rear axle by moving the plane of the wing as far back as possible.
And boy, what a massive rear wing it is. Given the road-going GTR is 70" in width, the GT500 wing must have a span of at least 80" (which is wider than AP Racing’s current GT500 wing)! The one benefit of the Calsonic livery is that they always kept it pretty minimal, which lets you appreciate the natural lines of a Skyline. However its definitely not as exciting as either of the NISMO factory cars (Xanavi, Pennzoil).
The side-profile aero looks unbelievably tame compared to the more modern cars in Super GT nowadays. No crazy wheel arch vents to manage the high pressure zones - just a simple flared arch from the NISMO Z-Tune and a massive cutaway at the rear of the car. The carbon side skirt between the two wheels gives a good visual cue as to how much wider the GT500 car is compared to the V-Spec II.
Additionally the way I shot this car makes it seem much brighter than it actually is, so my apologies. No one really knows what blue Calsonic uses for its liveries but the closest shade, or at least the shade mentioned in their articles, is Sonic Blue. Tomica’s Bayside Blue 1:64 GTR for reference.
As it is a sealed body, I couldn’t get great shots of the interior but hopefully the video from above with the Pennzoil GTR can give you a good cross-reference. Everything is done pretty accurately, from the positioning of the roll cage to the dashboard displays. Gear shifter and steering wheel placement are superb.
Looking back through the legacy of Team Impul and Calsonic Kansei is most concerning, with their future in Japanese motorsport uncertain. As NISMO’s parent company Nissan branching out into other markets (and buying Mitsubishi), it has meant they’ve had to sell their 41% share in Calsonic-Kansei to an American company. What this means for Team Impul is that, although Calsonic continues to supply OEM parts, their primary sponsorship in Super GT is likely to come to an end after 34 years.
Despite not having the greatest of seasons in JGTC and Super GT, I am grateful for all Hoshino-san has done for the team over the decades and will continue to support them - in diecast or otherwise. With rumours spreading that Jann Mardenborough is likely joining Team Impul for the 2017 season forwards, there is a great chance that the GT Academy graduate can bring them good fortunes.
That may or may not sway my next purchase, but time will tell.
Thank’s all for reading!