Ringmeister: Dirk Schoysman

by Fuggles
8 years ago
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Way back in 2008 Dirk Schoysman was happy to be interviewed by the GTROC.  The questions came from club members and were compiled by Iain Mathews who put them to the great man himself.

Dirk Schoysman is revered as the man who developed the chassis of the last three generations of the Skyline GT-R as well as being involved in the new R35 GT-R. Along with Sabine Schmitz and Walter Rohrl, having completed some 14,000+ laps of the Nurburgring-Nordschleife (equivalent to 7 trips around the world), Dirk is recognised as one of a handful of true Ringmeisters.

What first attracted you to cars in general?

I was 12 years old and a friend showed me a motorsport magazine. I read it and was immediately fascinated by the complexity of it all. I thought the sport’s structure had more elements than any other sport, because of the number of parameters and the difficulty to adapt a car to a track for example. In soccer or tennis (I’ve played a lot of tennis in my youth and it is a great sport too), the court always is the same, the rackets don’t evolve as quickly as cars and tyres etc. So I was attracted by racing cars in the first place, then later on, got a job related to road cars.

How did you begin your racing career?

Since I read magazines at the age of 12, I wanted to “become a racing driver”. I watched countless races at Zolder, Spa-Francorchamps and in the U.K. I believe you can learn a lot by watching (and listening to the engine/throttle operation). By the time I became 17, I had convinced my father to buy an old used go-kart for me. I practiced in a club and found that I was immediately keeping up quite well with most drivers.

Later on I bought a new kart together with a friend. We decided to enter a race and we tossed coins to see who would get the entry. I was the lucky one. It was in Holland, a race for the Benelux Championship. I qualified 3rd and finished 3rd. As I was completely unknown, it attracted one importer of Karts & engines for Belgium (Mr. Bruning) and he said I should drive for him the next year. Of course I accepted, got most things for free (would not have been able to pay for it!) and won 5 out of 10 races, missing out on the championship by one point.

Then I had set my sights on Formula Ford. I got to know one English driver and made the deal that I would be his mechanic and in return I would get to drive his Royale RP24 in free practice. I was immediately faster than him and he decided to support me a bit. It was all difficult. He was on a shoestring budget and I used to live in a van in the paddock at Brands Hatch (difficult but great memories)! So we didn’t get far, however, I learned a lot and could start in FF2000 in 1982 when Ayrton Senna won 15 out of 17 races. Myself I had to stop after 6 rounds, as there was simply no money to keep going.

Then, for a long time nothing much happened until in ’87 I got my job with Nissan and after a while I could convince my superiors to put me in the Skylines for certain races (Snetterton 24 hrs with Janspeed, Spa 24 hours with Nismo). From that moment, I have been able to get into Touring Car Racing, most of it in Belgium (Belgian Touring Car Championship, first 4 years in a Renault, then in official Primeras in 98 & 99) and on the Nurburgring (driving for the Japanese Falken Team that entered GT-R’s). On occasions I would get a seat with other teams in a Porsche (Daytona 24hrs, Zolder 24 hrs, Nurburgring VLN with Manthey Racing).

How did you get involved with Nissan and the R32, 33, 34 chassis development programme?

Early 19871 had an office job with Avis Leasing. A colleague showed me   a    newspaper   ad    “Japanese    Car Manufacturer seeks a car fanatic”. I got the job. As after my stay in England,  I could speak about some technical things in English(you wouldn’t learn that in School) and as I had some racing experience, I could join the “evaluation      team”     that      was      also developing/adapting   Nissan    chassis   in Europe.

Which is your favourite GT-R and why?

That’s a difficult question! Each one has its qualities. I like the 32 for its relative simplicity and responsiveness (still not so heavy car), the 33 is a bit more forgiving (longer wheelbase), the 34 has more power oversteer (ETS programme setting) and the new 35 is definitely one of the most complete and efficient cars the world has ever seen.

Have you ever owned a GT-R?

No I  haven’t. But in 1998-1999,1 had the privilege to drive a R33. It was one of the 2 pace cars
of the Le Mans 24 hours.  That got to the Nissan Technical Centre in Brussels where I was based and I was allowed to use it as I liked.

What  do  you   like  to  do  when   not racing/testing/driving?

Up to now, there’s not much time away from cars. I have a long list of other things I want to do. I like bicycle tours, I have family in the South of France and I adore sailing over there with my cousin who owns a small yacht, I enjoy city trips, I want to read more books, go out more into nature to try and become a reasonable photographer (drivers are visually oriented I think). And just like most people, dining in a good restaurant in good company is always great!

Who was your driving hero growing up? And have you ever met him/her?

I may have a strange attitude about this.  I never had a real hero in motor racing or anywhere else. From a philosophical/human point of view, I think everybody is basically the same and everybody deserves the same respect (with very little exceptions).

When I was a kid, Jochen Rindt was winning and that fascinated me. Then he got killed. When I was in FF2000 in the U.K. we could see that Senna was very special. A number of times, I’ve been just behind his car (when he was lapping me!). Not for long, he disappeared quickly into the distance, however, for 3 or 4 corners I could see everything and I tell you: he was perfect! I have met him but never really spoke with him. So I had a lot of respect for him and was very much touched when he had his fatal accident (I believe it’s not his fault).

8.  What car would you love to drive that you have not yet driven?

I’d love to go out in a decent F1 car of the early 7ties and discover what it is like. And I love the sound of screaming Cosworth engines. I guess a good F2 car of that era would be ok too.

When did you do your first Nordschleife lap?

Back in 1986 my Karting friend and I went over there in his Peugeot 205GTI. We did 3 laps just to see what it was like. No problem but of course, we were very slow, not knowing the circuit.

Did the addiction to the Nordschleife begin immediately after that first lap, ordid it take a while?

I prefer to say “fascination” to addiction. I was determined to do a maximum to attain a real good driving technique, just like a piano player seeks   a classical concert the best he can. No matter on what track. But of course, you’re right: the Nordschleife is different. I   only a bit later, when testing with   thus with increasing speed, I started    how demanding  all the  different situations are to master.

How many times have you crashed on the  Nordschleife?

Wow! In  testing and/or demonstration drives: never. If today, in a test, I loose it, I may get away with it I guess. But when you crash in a test in the beginning of your career, you will be thrown out of the team! A prototype is very valuable, not only from a cost point of view, but also a lot of development time may be lost when it gets damaged.

In racing I went off once after contact with another car, and in 2005, my suspension broke in Metzgesfeld and I crashed reasonably heavily into the barrier. That’s a shame because after 16 hours, we were 2nd overall in the 24 hrs race, sandwiched between 2 Schnitzer BMW’s in our Falken GT-R 34.

What’s it like being  regarded as a genuine Ringmeister?

When does one “deserve” to be named a Ringmeister? I don’t know. There’s a number of really good drivers around, some are better than me. But after all those years and 14.000 laps, I can say I know the place well indeed and I even believe that with my testing experience I may explain certain situations in a particular manner that is appreciated by some.I happen to be in this situation and to some petrol heads it may even be special. Other people have experience and/or talent in other areas.

Was the R33 used when you broke the Nordschleife 8’00 record modified in any way    from    standard    or    was    it    a development car?

That’s an interesting question. I do not necessarily think there is a  difference between a “development car” and “standard car”. It was a development car and it   was   standard.   However,   it’s   sort   of debatable. Let me explain: it was standard in the  sense  that all parts  were  standard (including  tyres).   But a  few items  were programmed to my liking; the 4wheel steering and especially the  4WD  (ETS).   So  the balance   of the   car  was   excellent   (no understeer and superb traction). My engine had a bit more boost too (I never had any figure, the difference was not substantial but of course, there were a few seconds in that). Further,  it was an aggressive lap,  cutting corners a lot etc. (not my usual style). It’s like the  question  when you  modify the  tyre pressure, is the car then still standard?

Can the R35 GT-R go quicker on the Nordschleife than the 7:29 lap that Nissan released?

It was Mr.  Toshio Suzuki (chief tester in this project) who drove the car with  the  intention  to  record  the  fastest possible lap time. Myself, I’ve never been asked to do my fastest possible lap. When suspension testing I did a 7:41 (my fastest lap in the car). It is possible to gain some seconds over that, however, it’s not really possible to know to what time we could get.

Has it been fun being involved in the R35 Nissan Race Academy?

Yes it has. Honestly, it is the best organized event I’ve been on. That is not only for the content of the programme, but also the people who organized it have the right kind of attitude (in my   opinion)    and   they   have   selected outstanding  instructors   and  support.   To spend time with people that are professional (the organizers), share the same interests, and who appreciate the product (including the clients) is always fun and very satisfying

Having raced the R33 and the R34 in the ADAC N24, do you think an R35 can win?

Good question. The R35 is one of the very best and fastest cars on the road. In a race, it’s not sure you get the same from a car, because some parameters are different (like fuel consumption). It is quite a big car and reasonably heavy. That means more fuel consumption (more stops). Everything depends of the parts that Nismo would develop for the car and also on the competition and regulations. Porsche has a long history in racing and they remain difficult to beat.

Furthermore, the car is not eligible for the race as (for the time being) the maximum engine capacity allowed is 6200cc. The R35 has a 3800cc engine x coefficient 1.7 for supercharging = 6460cc. A modification of the block is allowed however, that doesn’t make it easier (and more expensive).. .Nevertheless, in theory, it should be possible for the GT-R 35 to win, why not? Especially when it would rain a lot, it could happen.

What do you think of modified GT-R’s like that of the members cars that you have driven on the Nordschleife and how do they compare to the unmodified cars?

As you know a road car is a summary of compromises. Through tuning, the owner can choose a different bias. When the car improves for track days, it will loose some of its comfort on the road. So there are personal choices to be made and some trade off performance has to be accepted. When fitting wheels with different offsets, the basic geometry of the suspension may deteriorate. The tyres characteristics may not match the car’s (this effect is often under estimated) and therefore, the dynamics may be lost a bit (especially on-centre feel, non-linear  steering, poor balance and/or stability). Some cars were very nice, others a bit less (but that remains subjective to an extent).

How did you enjoy your weekend at the Nurburgring with the members of the GTROC?

I enjoy it to be with people that appreciate the activity   and   the   product.   It   was   also interesting for me to go back in time and to drive the “older” cars, as well as a great variety of tuned versions. And I have to say, the atmosphere was good and that’s always appreciated!I would like to thank Dirk for spending the time with the club and for answering our questions.

Dirk’s website can be found at: www.topline.be