This, ladies and gentlemen, is a photo of Melons' Better Driving's co-conspirators, CAMMED, at the May 8th Twissty Road Spring Cruise. Not one, but two Nissan GT-Rs were in attendance, as well as a rare Audi Quattro, several Subarus, a few Mitsubishis, Scion FR-Ss, and a modified Hyundai Accent, among others. The stars were definitely the GT-Rs, until the LFA showed up. But that's just not fair...
So, I have chosen a risqué title for an article that I think people may misunderstand. I don't mind if you like, or dislike the GT-R; I merely wish to present a fair, non-biased opinion of it as an experienced track day driving instructor.
I’ve driven, ridden in, and been around cars on race tracks for 18 years. Yes, it started when I was 4 years old. I started racing when I was 9.
But, many people seem to claim that the Nissan GT-R drives itself. That’s kinda true, if you want to say that about every all-wheel-drive car, ever.
You see, earlier this year, I went to a track day where a client gave me the keys to his 2014 Nissan GT-R. This was my second time driving a GT-R on track. However, today was the first time driving with traction control off entirely, and the R-mode suspension and transmission settings… the “full-track” settings, if you will.
Having briefly explained how this situation came to be, I want to explain just my thoughts about how the car is on track, and the only things I would change… a short list. The car deserves praise, and I’m telling you why. P.S., I haven’t seen a dollar from Nissan nor the client for writing this, and neither will likely even know about this article. This is not an advertisement and I’m not a sell-out. I’m saying this as a non-biased car enthusiast.
Anyways, the experience: The Canadian Tire Motorsports Park Driver Development Course was a sunny, bright and rather grippy track earlier today. The track has not rubbered-in yet, from winter, so the track is still slightly slick compared to how it will be later in the year. The long sweeping bends and small jumps are magical. They don’t impede visibility much like on a rally stage, but they still cause the momentary euphoria of weightlessness… And they still affect the traction of the car.
Indeed, when I turned off the traction control on the GT-R, I was greeted with a lovely heap of power-on-oversteer. The left-right of the downhill chicane-over-crest at “I-guess-it-is-turn-16” was a fantastically tricky section to master. The GT-R struggled with rear-wheel-traction when driven with my approach from driving the GT-R with traction control on. When I asked my client if traction control was on or not, I did not receive a clear answer. To assume that traction control was on was a comically silly thing for me to do, and was promptly greeted with an overly excited Dalmatian’s tail-wagging excitement.
Yes, even the mighty GT-R dare to wag its tail. Top Gear’s test of the GT-R with Jeremy Clarkson was not trick photography. The car genuinely can slide… especially if you treat it as if - such as some of the internet believe - it is a computer. While I maintained composure because *uninsured* (remember, track day) rental supercars are not the world’s fastest cars, and I was not yet going flat-out and pushing the car hard, I certainly noticed that the car slid. So did the client - I worked it into my lesson to show him that I was being foolish there and told him that a hot lap would not include such foolish antics. Oversteer is slow, smooth is fast. No computer, enabled or disabled, will ever change that.
Yeah, you've seen this photo on this site before. I can't get enough of it. Photo credits to Touge.ca Photography & Man1 Productions. This is one of my favourite photos, ever, taken from the paddock at Toronto Motorsports Park, Cayuga, where I first experienced the Nissan GT-R from the driver's seat. I was nervous to even put the car in gear that day, to be honest.
The GT-R is less “self-driving computer on wheels” and more “Skynet versus the human psychology.”
So, internet, I challenge your belief that the GT-R is a self-driving computer. But, I also support it. Please let me continue to explain.
In my last session in the car, I wanted to compare my hot lap potential with that of my client and see how he had improved. The answer was drastically. But, I tried various settings on the car while attempting these good flying laps. I found that the most fun, playful setting is by far TCS disabled entirely. But, the fastest is the barely noticable Race-mode traction control system. Indeed, the traction control doesn't drive for the driver, but the torque vectoring becomes more prominent with the traction control “gently activated,” while also keeping my rally-enthusiast tendency towards gliding gently sideways into corners in check. But, I quickly found that it’s still possible to have a gentle drift in the GT-R, even with traction control on its full setting...
And there was a Corvette who tried desperately to reassert dominance. I've never seen someone improve as quickly as the Corvette trying to catch me. I didn't quite have the outright grip nor lightweight chassis of the Corvette, but with a thorough understanding of the racing line, and an even more thorough understanding of the limits of the car's potential (something which comes easily in the GT-R,) I was able to keep a sizable gap for about 7 laps, until the Corvette finally found the rhythm of the track and started to catch up. During that time, I was rather satisfied with the GT-R's performance. My passenger, however, was nearly nauseous. The GT-R has the potential to rearrange organs.
The GT-R doesn’t drive itself. But, the grip and balance is so flawless, it feels like you are a driving prodigy. You begin to feel like you have more grip than you do. Only the most experienced drivers will truly ever eek out the ultimate potential of the GT-R by maintaining the strength of mind to resist allowing the computers to take over. The GT-R is less “self-driving computer on wheels” and more “Skynet versus the human psychology.”
Only the most bizarrely brave even dare to trust the computers to completely drive for them… And these are the guys who are also the slowest GT-R drivers. A good driver will figure out how to drive every car well. The GT-R is the car that rewards the driver for beating Skynet. The machine wants to take over and let you overdrive the car, hoping it can use its technological wizardry to sort out a situation you created. But, when you take charge of the robots, they’ll do more work than one single person ever could, modulating the brakes to almost bend the laws of physics. And, it works.
An unmodified, 3800 pound car should not be even close to keeping pace with a heavily modified Corvette C6 ZO6 with near-racing-slicks and track suspension. The weight alone would explain a large theoretical difference in lap time… a theoretical difference that doesn’t exist. Remember, a GT-R set blistering lap records around several tracks back in 2007 and 2008… Long before the Viper ACR and dubious lap records of the Civic Type R impressed people. We’re still talking about a 3800 pound car.
The suspension, the engine, the brakes, the steering rack, the dual clutch auto transmission that does exactly what you ask of it, and the tires all work towards that incredible lap time we barely believed. It’s not just the computers. The computers merely assist. The outright grip and the incredible mechanical chassis work together with the computers, but the driver must still take the reins and lead the car through to get the optimal lap.
Not even a GT-R will brake for corners on its own. There is one car in existence capable of driving itself around a track. One car, built by Audi and nicknamed "Robby", which can complete an unassisted lap of a racing circuit nicknamed “Sonoma” because it is renamed more frequently than I can keep track of. It was called Sears Point, so I still call it that from time to time. The car, though, is 8 seconds per lap slower than Josef Newgarden, even when Newgarden - an Indycar racing star - takes on ballast to make the weight of the two cars even. The GT-R, on the other hand, is very much still a real driver’s car. It’s more forgiving than the old 70s Porsches because almost literally everything is, and that’s not saying much. But, it’s not driving itself. It can’t get itself around a track. The driver must still choose the braking points, the turn-in points, and the apexes. Any driver you see still determines how quickly it will get around the track. The car can still slide and it can still crash - all due to the human involvement. The human involvement is as important as with any other car. Any car can be controlled. Some are harder than others, sure, but I guess not everyone is ready to drive the Renault Alpine A110 at full tilt. I don't even know if I am. But, computers are not driving many cars around many race tracks these days… Even fewer computers are achieving self-satisfaction and fun from it. And why would we relinquish a fun activity to the robots?
Andrew Geier is an accomplished automotive enthusiast, with 15 years of automotive experience. At age 22, he created Melons' Better Driving in an effort to make people rethink the automotive world with insightful vision and articles about the future of the automotive culture and all of its subcultures, including motorsports. Seen in the site's background image, examining a road which was torn up by rally cars with his friends, his passion is clearly demonstrated by his excited pose.