It was a throwaway statement, but once it was reported and widely quoted, it caused quite a controversy. Oh, how we all love a tempest in a teapot.
It went thus. August Achleitner, the demure chief of the Porsche 911 range, was speaking to an Australian Web site when he was questioned about Nissan's claimed 7-minute, 29-second lap of the Nürburgring Nordschleife in a new GT-R. His response was pure nitroglycerin. He reported that Porsche had indeed taken a GT-R to the 'Ring, but that its test driver could only manage a 7-minute, 54-second lap. On the same day, a 911 Turbo and a 911 GT2 ran 7:38 and 7:34, respectively - slightly outside the times previously set by test driver Walter Röhrl, but only by a few seconds. Achleitner then suggested that the only way the GT-R ran the claimed time was using special sticky tires. We'll never know if he uttered that last point wearing an impish grin, but he must have known that such comments would prove explosive among the Porsche and Nissan communities. Sure enough, since the story broke last year, the Web has been alight with claim and counterclaim. In its initial riposte, Nissan offered Porsche, and any other car manufacturer that might be interested, a demonstration of how to extract the best time from the GT-R. Meeeow.
Should Herr Achleitner have opened his mouth? Probably not. Was Nissan's response a little childish? Possibly. Why do we care? Because it has prompted two car manufacturers to start bitch-slapping each other and caused one of the most interesting car debates of our time, namely - is the new $77,840 GT-R really faster around the Nürburgring than the $194,950 pinnacle of Porsche's sports car lineup?
Now, it just so happened that a fortunate confluence of events landed on my lap. I race a Porsche 911 Cup car at the Nürburgring in a series called the VLN, and the day after the final round of the 2008 championship, I was doing a track day with some friends. With this in mind, I asked Porsche if it might lend me a GT2 and phoned a friend who owns a Nissan GT-R to see if I could borrow it. They both said yes, and it looked like we had a story from the gods. But then, when the Monday after the race came, it rained. And after it had rained buckets, it rained some more. And by encouraging the oil that had been deposited all the way around the 12.9-mile lap by an incontinent BMW M3 during Saturday qualifying to reappear from the pavement, a lethal emulsion was formed. In places, you couldn't stand on the track. We didn't drive either car for the whole day. Redefine your personal definition of the word frustration, because it can't possibly compete with the combination of a Porsche 911 GT2, a Nissan GT-R, the Nordschleife, and unusable track conditions. Still, it gave me time to consider the prospect of two cars that could easily carry 160 mph into certain sections of guardrail, neither of them fitted with anything better at restraining a rapidly decelerating human torso than a standard road-car seatbelt. No harnesses - not even a partial roll cage in the case of the GT-R.