2009 Automobile of the Year: 2009 Nissan GT-R

John Roe

King of the 'Ring

The Porsche 911 Turbo was the target in Nissan's crosshairs when the GT-R was being developed. Naturally, that meant meeting benchmarks for 0-to-60-mph times and top speed. But above all, the GT-R also had to outrun the 911 in Porsche's own lair in the Eifel Mountains-the historic Nordschleife at the Nürburgring.

Lap times on the North Loop are strictly unofficial, but the bragging rights for manufacturers are immense. Dozens of Nissan engineers, technicians, and test drivers devoted several months to logging thousands of laps at the 'Ring. Early on, the GT-R beat the times set by the C6 Corvette and the Corvette Z06. Then, former Formula 1 driver Toshio Suzuki clicked off a lap at 7:29, which eclipsed not only the 911 Turbo but also a 911 GT2 driven by legend Walter Röhrl.

Nissan's chest-thumping over this feat aggravated Porsche enough that the company conducted its own test of the GT-R. After failing to get within 25 seconds of Suzuki's time, Porsche accused Nissan of using slicks on the Nordschleife. Nissan responded by posting in-car video of its record lap and photos of its street tires. And in a masterstroke of passive-aggressive trash talking, it also offered Porsche free driver training.

"I Had This Car In My Head" -Kazutoshi Mizuno
by Joe DeMatio

It is the custom at Japanese car companies to endow one person, the chief vehicle engineer, with absolute and total authority over the development of a new model. The company's practically unlimited resources are at his disposal in bringing his vision of the car to reality. It is an unusually autocratic position for organizations that, in general, do not celebrate the role of the individual over the group, and it is a role that Kazutoshi Mizuno, who is both chief vehicle engineer and chief product specialist for the Nissan GT-R, clearly relishes. "I had this car in my head-the performance, the dynamics-completed in my head," he told me in April 2007, when I drove a preproduction GT-R in Germany, "even before [Nissan CEO] Mr. Ghosn asked for it. People at Nissan did not believe me when I said my car would be as good as a Porsche 911 Turbo, but in a different way," he grinned, broadly. "But it is."

Mizuno-san, an intense but jovial man prone to sneaking cigarettes at any opportunity, toiled for years in the engineering trenches at Nissan after graduating from college in 1972. He joined Nissan's racing efforts in 1987 and rose to direct the company's 1994 Le Mans campaign with the R33-series Skyline GT-R. By 2000, he was in charge of the team that developed the 350Z, the first Infiniti FX, and the last-generation Skyline, among other cars. Nearly five years ago, he turned his attention to the GT-R celebrated in these pages. The crowning moment of his career came at the Tokyo show in October 2007, when he unveiled his baby. "There are three requirements for a supercar," he proudly declared. "One, it must weigh four kilograms [8.8 pounds] or less per horsepower-our ratio is 3.6 kilograms. Two, it must have 300-kph [186-mph] capability on public roads. And, three, it must be able to circle the Nrburgring Nordschleife in less than eight minutes." One man, one car, one mission accomplished.

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