Video: watch the 1400bhp Nissan GT-R drift above, and then click on for the full feature…
You are here
Video: watch the 1400bhp Nissan GT-R drift car go nuts
TG's Ollie Kew discovers the fury of a nitrous-fuelled, rear-drive £500k GT-R
‘Untuneable’, they said. Remember when the R35 Nissan GT-R showed up in 2007? Nissan boasted it’d be untuneable, the secrets of its bi-turbo V6 engine, ATTESA-ETS all-wheel drive and trick systems locked away by reams of uncrackable code. No-one would get to play with Godzilla.
Funny how times change. Nine years later, I’m being belted into a GT-R – a Nissan-approved, Nismo-corrupted one-off GT-R – with no front driveshafts, no paddleshifters, barely an interior and, oh yeah, nitrous. This is the rear-drive, widebodied 1390bhp Nissan GT-R Spec-D Edition, built for one heroically silly purpose. To eviscerate the goalposts for the world’s fastest drift.
Photography: David Smith
Of course, Nissan already achieved that. In April, this very car was flown to the United Arab Emirates (it still wears the numberplates allowing it to be driven on UAE’s public highways), geared for well over the double-ton, and pointed down the Fujairah International Airport’s 1.8-mile runway. Driver Masato Kawabata flicked it sideways at 210mph, and recorded a drift speed of 193mph. This surprised Nissan. It’d only targeted 186mph…
Toyota’s 2013 drift record of 135mph, set in a 1000bhp GT86, was knocked into a cocked hat three football pitches away. Nissan, triumphant, decided to bring the GT-R to the Goodwood Festival of Speed a month ago, where you’ll have seen it – still running 200mph gearing and suspension – bucking and fighting Irish drift champion Darren McNamara up Lord March’s driveway in the English summer drizzle. It’s a hunkered, over-cambered, I’ll-have-you-for-breakfast-sunshine monster. And they’re going to let me have a go. Easy boy, there’s a nice Godzilla…
I’ll just hit pause there and give you an idea of the day so far. It’s the hottest day of 2016 in Britain, as you can tell by the state of my t-shirt. 32 degrees Celsius is tropical for rural Rutland, where Nissan has commandeered one end of RAF Cottesmore’s bleak 1.7-mile runway. The US Air Force flew C-47 transporters out of here for D-Day. It was on the front line of Britain’s Cold War nuclear defence in the Sixties, and a couple of years ago Cottesmore became the last bastion of the Harrier Jumpjet. A need for speed and generally narking off physics lives in the soil here.
The sun is furiously beating down on the gritty concrete. A trundling tractor is keeping the grass run-off in check nearby. Fresh from his superb Le Mans finish in a Nissan-powered LMP2 Ligier, Sir Chris Hoy is limbering up for his go in the Drift-zilla right after I’ve had a play. Probably best not to stuff it just before Britain’s most decorated Olympian gets dibs on the GT-R. His sturdy handshake is the first of several white knuckle moments this afternoon.
To get my eye in, Nissan’s brought along a 370Z racing car used in the GT Academy scheme to separate the PlayStation wannabes from next-gen world champions. I hopefully ask if it’s been set up for drifting, so novice numpties (present) stand a chance of wearing out the rears before the fronts. “No, it’s just a regular racecar so you’ll find there isn’t much steering lock, but it’s a dusty surface and the diff’s quite tight so…yeah, you’ll probably be alright”, comes the optimistic reply. The pit crew, perched on a pile of pre-shredded tyres, grimace.
As it turns out, the Zed is a useful Early Learning Centre drifter. Its driver needs some fettling, however. Getting it unstuck is no problem, but I’m repeatedly too lazy getting my foot off the gas once the rears are lit, so I spin. And again. And…got it…no, that’s gone too. I finally manage to feather the gas and catch a slide when there’s a huge bang from over my left shoulder and the car’s rear drops several inches. Fearful Cottesmore’s watching infantry are so unimpressed with my display they’ve attempted putting me out of my misery, we limp back to the pits.
A strange sense of achievement washes over me when it turns out the left rear’s inside shoulder has worn past the canvas shoulder and violently burst, rather than catching a NCO’s potshot. I’m deliriously pleased to have killed a tyre, though that could be the heat exhaustion. The 370’s air-con has to be switched off while we’re up on the jacks, and it’s well over 40 degrees in the car. I have a vague hallucination about being let loose in a half-million-quid drift-mobile in view of the world’s best cyclist. Strange old day.
One fresh tyre later, I’m getting the hang of it. It’s just a simple figure-of-eight between cones, but the runway’s so wide it fools my brain into being too generous with the sheer space on offer, so I’m not building a rhythm. Once I’m told to imagine a tightrope and keep the car on an accurate line, I finally link up the transitions and get some proper slides going. It’s the most addictive process you can attempt on four wheels, but the GT-R is waiting and the pit crew wants its 370Z back in one piece this time.
The GT-R is hot inside. Darren – yep, our Goodwood demonstrator – says he’ll give the GT-R ‘a pull’ down the runway to demo the sequential ‘box. “Straight back for up a gear, forward for down, and just keep going until you get to neutral”, he says in a strong, matter-of-fact Irish accent. He gestures at another alloy lever a couple of inches left of the gearlever. “That’s the handbrake. You don’t wanna be touching that, okay?”
“Okay, sure”, I grin. He doesn’t. Fair enough. This car is worth half a million quid. It has twice the power – twice – of the most powerful road car I’ve driven. That was a McLaren 675LT. I thought that was savage. Shortly it will seems as fighty as a pedalo.
The first impressions from the passenger seat are that the car doesn’t feel pulverisingly fast, and that someone’s accidentally filled the gearbox with six first gears. These observations are connected. Basically the boost comes in at 4500rpm and whether in first, second, third, fourth or fifth, it bonfires the rears. Doesn’t matter if you’re at 10mph or 100mph. There’s no traction to deploy 1400bhp. When you see it written down like that, it seems rather obvious. Anyway, the car’s running smaller rear tyres than usual today to make it easier to unstick. I reckon a boggo GT-R could hold its own against this is in a drag race.
My turn passes in a blur of oh-God-it’s-still-wheelspinning gearshifts. Oddly, besides the breathy bellow of the bored-out 4.0-litre V6 ahead, with whistling wastegates on backing vocals, the GT-R isn’t overly intimidating. The clutch is light. The steering’s one-hand easy. The shifter has a longer travel than expected, but there’s a satisfying ‘clink’ to selecting each new ratio, followed by a livid flair of revs as it’s rendered totally useless by the absurd rush of power. There’s a bit more rear tyre gone. In fifth, at 130mph. Crikey. It brings a new meaning to rear-wheel steer.
It’s Darren’s turn. He’s sat alongside me as I slew up and down the Cottesmore’s runway, gesturing when to brake as the GT-R chews through the distance like no land-based vehicle I’ve ever been on board. Now he gets to scare the bejesus out of me. We peel off down a slipway and he pops a baby drift through the 90-degree left hander, short-shifting to fourth as we line up for the big slide past the pits. About five seconds before we reach the turning point, the mowing tractor lumbers out of the long grass to our right and plods across the tarmac. I see it a split-second before Darren, but before I’ve time to make the Team America Secret Signal he’s braked, downshifted about forty times and given the tractor’s bemused driver the international hand signal for ‘whatever do you think you’re doing?’
Take two. This time the entry speed for the first drift is a lot higher. Darren seems slightly perturbed by tractorgate. He shifts into sixth for the 45-degree main turn, dials in a dab of left lock, nails the throttle and kicks the clutch to spool the V6.
My torso, restrained by a six-point harness and the half-kilo of sweat soaked into my race suit, follows the car’s scything path into the apex. However, my head, which has never experienced a car execute such a ludicrous turn-in velocity, doesn’t. And that’s the second ‘bang’ of the day, as my lid fully pinballs off the Perspex window. By the time my neck has dragged it straight again we’re heading down the runway perpendicular to the angle a Harrier pilot would choose at this point. A 130mph+ drift, and ah yes, he’s only using one hand.
One perfect transition, and we’re facing the other way. And again. And again. Left-right-left. Half a mile down the runway, the marmalised rears are still lit, the engine’s still having a tantrum against its rev limiter. It appears Darren’s installed a frosted window between us. He’s slowly melted away into a cloud of tyre fog engulfing the car so intensely I can’t see my hand in front of my face. My contact lenses are bone dry, and all I can taste are Toyos. Mmmm. This must be what it’s like to join The Stig for Christmas dinner.
As the opaque smoke dissipates (the GT-R’s windows don’t open so I think most of it went into my lungs, and reduced my life expectancy to months) we’re both laughing. I open my mouth and immediately forget not to swear for the GoPros. Sorry. It is by far and away the wildest, most violent ride I’ve ever had in a car, and yet from the outside, it’s the most balletic-looking. Graceful, in fact. Godzilla doesn’t just play. Once it’s ‘tuned’, Godzilla can dance.