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Top Gear chats to Mizuno-san: Mr GT-R

  1. In an antechamber in the old Silverstone pit building, a small man in a brown suit is leaping from foot to foot and waving his arms around. This is Kazutoshi Mizuno, the father of Nissan’s barnstorming GT-R, and he is not especially happy.

    “Thinking that my car is too heavy is a mistake!” he says, clapping his hands together for emphasis. “All journalists say [affects a funny voice]: ‘GT-R is heavy, heavy, heavy - it should be lighter, lighter, lighter!’ I say, journalists need to develop a more professional level of thinking! More study! More thought! The GT-R needs to be this weight. A car with less weight does not handle. Lighter weight can be dangerous. And it will not be drivable by all customers. You have a responsibility for the customer. I have a big responsibility for the customer!”

    There is a momentary lull as Mizuno-san gathers his thoughts. Then he’s off again, this time assaulting a whiteboard in a bid to explain some rudimentary physics. I might have paid attention in school if I’d had a teacher as committed as this.

    “All people have the right to enjoy a supercar and supercar performance,” he says, firmly laying out his MO. “All people, anywhere, anytime. Before, the supercar was a very closed market. I wanted to open the market up. Big boot. Accessible performance. You can drive my car at 186mph with your wife. Before GT-R, it was a dream. After GT-R, the dream was real.”

    His hands are a blur across the board. The face furrows with concentration. Though he’s tired, his eyes are blazing.

    Words: Jason Barlow
    Photography: David Shepherd

    This article was originally published in the January 2012 issue of Top Gear Magazine

  2. “So, how do you make a car? I can show you a very easy example. Imagine a high-speed corner in an F1 car, and it is using the best tyres in the world. An F1 car weighs 560kg, more than 600kg with the driver. How much downforce does an F1 car generate? Currently, it is around 1,300kg. So what is the total weight? 1,860kg [about the same as a GT-R with the driver on board, coincidentally]. A GT1 racing car weighs between 1,200 and 1,300kg. Plus downforce of 600kg, the actual weight on the car is 1,800kg… you see, very easy!”

    Mizuno is one of the reasons we love Japan and the Japanese car industry. Undoubtedly imbued with the ‘vision thing’, somehow the vast corporate edifice that is Japanese big business finds room in its attic for characters like this. It’s why the Nissan GT-R does what it does, and does it in a way utterly unlike any of its European or American rivals. So while I’mleft scratching my head in an effort to keep up with Mizuno’s (occasionally rather fuzzy) logic, it’s nothing compared to the sense of dislocation you feel when the GT-R hooks up and throws you out the other side of a wet corner at a velocity that seems not to twist physics so much as taunt it. There is a hint of madness to all this, but a big dollop of genius, too. Then you meet the man behind it, and things become clear. Well, mostly. “Tyre-grip load is the essence of performance,” he says. “I want constant tyre-grip load on all four wheels, so balance is very important. That’s why the GT-R has a front-mounted V6 and a rear transaxle. It is the best for balance. Everything starts with the amount of weight on all four wheels.”

    Mizuno even recounts an early career epiphany with astounding humility. “I started work at Nissan in 1972,” he says; “I was always sleeping during working time, I didn’t work too hard, I didn’t work late nights. As a student, you see, I had designed a Formula Junior car. In Nissan, I was only in parts design, not car development. Between 1972 and 1975, I am a bad company person. So the company sent me to a dealer, and said, ‘Please study the customer.’ I sell cars to handicapped people while I’m there. ‘Car is part of my life; it is a human,’ they explain to me. My mind has a big change. I realised the most important thing is that the car is for a customer…”

  3. We’ll return to this mantra in a bit. Mizuno will also talk fondly of his adventures in Group C endurance racing in the late Eighties and early Nineties (mostly in the context of his understanding of carbon fibre and carbon-ceramic brakes, and my lack of it). For now, though, there is the 2012 GT-R, which is the primary reason we’re both here. Visually more or less identical to the current car, Mizuno and his team have been super-busy fettling and tweaking the mechanical package in a way that’s entirely consistent with the GT-R’s generally indomitable character. The mighty 3.8-litre, twin-turbo V6 gets revised heads, sodium-filled valves, and a new intake system, to improve drivability, throttle response and reduce emissions and consumption. Power is up to 542bhp (at 6,400rpm, a 12bhp boost on the 2011 model), and torque increased to 466lb ft. The dual-clutch transmission is smoother-shifting, and overall body stiffness has been beefed up.

    Not that the GT-R needed any extra meatiness: a couple of laps of the new Silverstone GP circuit on a chilly morning reinforces that this is one of the world’s most technically accomplished cars, and just crazy enough, despite four-wheel drive and an armoury of electronics, to instil serious respect in the driver. The way it uses its tyres (now Dunlops rather than Bridgestones) is incredible, and we also know that the GT-R will pull more lateral g than anything vaguely comparable. Than virtually everything, in fact. Credit to the launch control, too: how the hell this thing can get to 62mph in 2.9 seconds without vaporising its pistons and gearbox is extraordinary (I did three runs just to be sure - good as gold each time).

    Which brings us back to the man who made it all happen. One of the 2012 MY’s most intriguing tweaks is to the suspension: the front left side uses harder spring rates than the right, and has a slightly different ride height. This is because Mizuno realised that, in RHD GT-Rs, the weight of the driver on that side of the car affected its dynamics. This is attention-to-detail bordering on the loony. I half-expect him to ask me what I had for lunch before letting me loose in the new car. (“You had pie? You will not drive my car until the pie has all gone!”)

  4. Is it correct that a car like the GT-R could only come from Japan, I ask, as he unwinds from another whiteboard assault.

    “The GT-R is a Japanese supercar. Yes. So, what is Japan? All German cars are high-quality and high-price. American cars are cheaper and not as good. Italian cars are eccentric but unreliable. Nationality is bigger than the cars. Again, what is Japan? [Now back on the whiteboard] It is takumi. This is Japanese spirit! [Takumi broadly means skill and artisanship] For example, grandmother buys kimono, mother, daughter all do the same… takumi then modifies each person’s things. It is a special skill that adds something special in the customer mind, and passes it on to the next generation. So the GT-R is takumi. I do this for customer, not for myself or for company pride.”

    That’s what the Track Pack is about, and the amusingly named Egoist personalisation package, wherein the owner can go nuts speccing his or her car without going aftermarket (“very passionate essence for customer”). But what about the person who wants to really let rip? Could the GT-R be, you know, too controlling? For example, I tell him, I love a bit of oversteer. This is another mistake.

  5. “Oversteer is foolish,” he says. “Only foolish people develop that. Actual grip car, only a clever engineer can develop. A car that makes the maximum tyre grip, it is not dangerous. Car has two jobs: one is ecology, to make a better future. It is important to enjoy a high-performance car, but it is more important to keep a life. Tyre grip is better than maximum engine torque. All customers can enjoy this supercar drive! All customers can easily enjoy 500bhp and accelerate to 62mph in three seconds! Anyone, anywhere, anytime can enjoy this. Other cars, only a special development engineer can enjoy them…”

    That’s Mizuno-san: provider of near-Bugatti-Veyron levels of performance and exhilaration at a fraction of the price. Possibly the craziest car engineer I’ve ever met, and certainly one of the most brilliant. Though even that, it turns out, might be wide of the mark.

    “I am like the painter who keeps painting, in search of the perfect picture, until he dies. The GT-R is the same as an artist painting a picture. Nothing is ever perfect, but we must carry on. Takumi mind has no set target.”

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