Although I have known John Miskin for some time, this was my first opportunity to experience the Nissan GTR and the GTROC first hand. The experience was exceptional and the entire weekend was fabulous. This is my first blog and I hope you enjoy it.
Initially I thought this would be a ‘Baptism of Fire’ as my main concentration over the past 3 or 4 years has been to race in the BTCC Touring car events and to pick up as many podiums as I could to win the Championship. I have so far completed 63 races, 17 wins and 36 podiums, so last weekend was a rare bit of free time to come and enjoy the delights of the Nurburgring 24 hour race. Initially, having tested the HEICO Mercedes-BenzSLSGT3 car at the demanding Portimao Circuit in Portugal, where I managed after 26 laps to have put the car onto the 2011 pole position, a drive was offered at the 24 hour race. However, I was excluded from entry as I had not competed in a VLN Race at the Ring before. Therefore this opportunity was fantastic, especially as I was coming down in a GTR, and would be able to meet and talk with drivers and teams during the weekend.
That’s enough about me; what about the GTR Owners Club and the amazing R35 GTR. John was amazed that I had only been a passenger in a road car that had done 157 MPH (on public roads). I certainly went faster on track both in the Ginetta and the AMG Mercedes SLS GT3 car, but to actually experience a car that can be used as everyday transport, yet lap the Nordschleife in 7 minutes 23 seconds was going to be amazing.
I had been instructing at Rockingham on the Thursday so had to persuade my dad (Simon Hill) to drop me off at Stop 24 on the M20 where I met part of the group that we would be joining in convoy to the Ring. After a few introductions and some food, we set off for the Tunnel. Immediately I was astonished at the acceleration of John’s GTR which he claims is more or less standard (I know him too well!). Once we had cleared France, I could sense the impatience to get onto the German Autobahn that had some derestricted areas, and it was no surprise when the beast was opened up for the first time. Speedo shot past the 200mph mark and the car was handling as if it were on rails. Only when we started to take a minor right hand bend did I realise that the Autobahn is not flat as we started to pitch and yaw through the corner. I was a little relieved when John eased off and I mentioned that we had just done over 200mph, only to be told that the speedometer over reads and that the V Box would give the true speed which turned out to be 196mph – still bloody fast!
A couple of stops for fuel and food and we’d arrived in Bonn for the first nights stop. The hotel was hidden behind two coaches and several cars, and I imagined a wait to get into the underground car park. John had other ideas and being ahead of the convoy after the blast down the Autobahn, he just took to the pavements and drove straight into the hotel main entrance and instructed me to remove the move parking bollards so he could squeeze the beast into pole position in front of the hotel – job done!
The hotel was fab with everyone rushing round to help us. Fortunately a twin bedded room was ours as I didn’t fancy the threat of the double bed with pillows down the middle. The evening was amazing, with incredible food and just listening to the members of the Club made me realise that I was with a very special group of people. We had Tobi and David from Nissan GB who were really helpful along with the two lovely promo girls Charlotte and Emily who were really in charge.
Next day to the Ring and I was totally gobsmacked not just by the size and the number of people but by the enormous number of racing cars of all different classes and makes all taking part in this awesome race. We saw the last of the British GT race in which Jann was racing along with some of my mates from the Ginetta class. The paddock was so alive with organised chaos that would never be allowed in the UK, but I gave me an insight as to what European Racing is all about – I want some of this and I will get it! Everyone was asking what I was doing this season and why I was at the Ring, and when I mentioned that I had come with Nissan, they all came to the wrong conclusion that I was being headhunted by them. Both John and I put them right but a small feeling inside me made me think, what if………
We spent a lot of time in the Nissan pit area soaking up the atmosphere and was a little surprised at the fact they were sharing the pit garage with a couple of BMW’s. There were team members everywhere and I was introduced to Mizuno-san and some of the drivers along with Gary Finney from Middlehurst’s who seemed to be in charge of GTR no 123. The sense of anticipation and excitement about driving standard Nissan GTR’s around the Nordschleife for 24 hours was immense, and I think they were Track pack cars with bigger fuel tanks, roll cage and slicks, with a few extra bits of kit for the drivers and team. I have never seen anything like it as I imagined the man that had been described to me as the father of GTR and almost a God in Nissan, would be just mingling with all the mechanics, driver etc and not sitting on a throne surveying everything that lay before him. I was truly in awe of the man as he was so humble and genuinely enthusiastic about what was going to be achieved; not once did he mention the word ‘might’ as I think he only thinks about success and what his car will achieve.
We spent some time on the grid walk which felt like I was in a rugby scrum at times with everyone scrambling to get to see their favourite cars and those on the front of the grid. I have to admit to having a moment of jealousy seeing all the cars, my friends and other drivers posing with gorgeous girls with cameras snapping away, but a gently nudge in my kidneys from John brought me back to earth. “You will get here, just be patient” reassured me of my youth and how many years I have in front of me to achieve this. We got towards the front of the grid to see the HEICO Mercedes SLS that I had tested only a few weeks back and John took a picture of me standing beside it – a poignant moment.
We went back to the Nissan Camp to watch the start of the race (actually several starts as they release the various classes with about a 30 second break between them). The cars kept coming and only when I was reminded that the circuit was over 18 miles long did I realise why the front runners weren’t catching the less powerful cars before they were released. We spent most of the afternoon in the Nissan Camp hospitality area being fed and watered (I don’t drink but I think John was drinking for me!). The way that Nissan looked after us was fantastic as I have never been on the other side of motor racing to experience it.
We made several trips back to the paddock and pits during the evening and early night to soak up the atmosphere and I managed to spend some time in the Mercedes HEICO team pit to witness how they operate under race conditions and what I might be expected to do when I race with them later in the season. It was just awesome, with the team and drivers casually talking with John and myself, the lack of panic or urgency and most of all the routine and the gentle discussions going on with the drivers in the cars at the time. One driver stating that he had a vibration at about 280kph only to be told to drive through it!
Eventually in the early hours we decided to put our heads down in the luxurious Nissan tent which we had barely organised in advance. John seemed to produce stuff out of the cavernous boot of his GTR that put my basic sleeping bag to shame. A yoga mat (pinched from his wife Mary), a camp bed, a massive foam mattress and a polar sleeping bag with pillow. Apparently they were all ‘borrowed’ and he did allow me the yoga mat to sleep on. My pitiful existence was rewarded when the rain started t about 6am and John’s deluxe foam mattress soaked up all the water that came into the tent and I remained totally dry whilst he gradually had the waterline creep up and beyond his sophisticated sleeping bag. Tough wasn’t it!
The rain soon cleared to hot sunshine and after a shower and clean up, breakfast and superb fresh orange juice in the Nissan hospitality area was most welcome. Back to the pits to catch up with everything that had happened overnight; which was quite a lot. Plenty of cars were looking somewhat battered, some retirements and plenty of activity in the pits. Both the Nissan GTR’s were still running, one in about 33rd place and the other in 101st place. There had been some running issues during the night and we had witnessed car 123 coming in the previous evening with a bent wheel and minor bodywork damage on the nearside front, but overall they were still running and we got a complete breakdown of the night’s activity from Gary Finney. There was still over 6 hours to go and the clock was ticking down. Most had managed the odd cat nap but it was a scene that resembled the ‘Return of the Zombies’ with red eyed and a slightly robotic walk from some of the teams.
I took a particular interest in how they were managing the drivers, the communication and the way that actions on the circuit dictated strategy rather than the plan laid down in the pre race meeting. Because of the long lap, which was averaging about 8 min 45secs for the front runners and 9 min 58secs for the GTR’s, there was plenty of time to prepare for pit stops and re-fuelling. The tyres and cleaning of the windscreen and lights was never rushed as it was the re-fuelling that took the time with a maximum flow dictated by the organisers.
The important thing was to make sure that both the Nissan GTR’s finished as they were in a class of their own and would be able to declare a 1st and 2nd place in the famous Nurburgring 24 hour race. We decided to pack up and leave just before the end as it was virtually in the bag for Nissan and the front runners were static in their positions at that time. Clearly the last two laps were exciting and caused a major upset with the front runners, but as we were really there to support the Nissan’s, we made a rapid exit for the Eurotunnel having said our goodbyes to the teams.
Some set off half an hour before us and we left about 3.30pm to catch the 10pm train. This sounded extremely sensible, and having packed up our gear and John’s wet stuff, we set of in a convoy of 2 with Ed Horner and John Fuggles in front. Soon John’s TomTom was throwing up message after message telling us to divert, so John overtook Ed’s car and we took to the countryside. What a fabulous area once you get off the Autobahn, with little villages and some really good quality single track roads. Eventually after a chat with Ed and John F we decided to believe TomTom and found ourselves on a totally different route on the E40 which was remarkably clear. It was at this point that John decided to fully open up his Nissan GTR, and soon we were showing nearly 350kph on the speedo and 201mph on the V Box display on the dashboard. The car was just awesome at that speed with total stability and although a Kia Picanto decided that the third lane was his place on the road as we approached, the brakes were immense albeit somewhat noisy. When we stopped for fuel, John downloaded the information from the V Box and we had indeed done 202mph. I think this may have been due to John filling the car up with 102 octane fuel rather than the standard 98, and perhaps we were on a slight downhill stretch of the Autobahn, but that’s my new record in a road car on the public roads!
We could see some threatening clouds to the east and some amazing fork lightening ahead, but we managed to outrun the rain although Ed and John F who had be more circumspect with their speed, told us on the phone that their GTR had turned into a boat with a giant bow wave being produced behind them. John seemed to intimate that he had done that speed to outrun the rain, but I suspect otherwise!
We arrived at Calais Eurotunnel some 3 hours 40 minutes after leaving the ring, and managed to catch an earlier train after a quick snack in the restaurant.
Met dad at a stop on the M20 and I got home just after 9pm.
I must say a million thanks to Nissan and the GTR Owners Club for an unforgettable weekend, and one that will stay with me for the rest of my life. Everyone on the trip was fantastic and friendly; the team was so professional and spent so much time explaining everything. The club should be very proud of what they have achieved, and hopefully I will be able to get more involved in the motor sport and trackday events in the future.