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.
There came a point when the diminishing time forced me to go have a look at the track. After all, it’s bad enough to return with no story and no usable lap times, but it would have been morally reprehensible to admit that not a single lap had been completed.
So, into the spray and gloom went the 530-hp GT2, wearing Michelin Pilot Sport Cup tires with less than two-tenths of an inch of tread depth remaining. That first lap was very much a wash. The full wet line at the Nordschleife, like any circuit, bears little resemblance to its dry relative; you simply have to carve a route around the outside of every turn. This finds you far more grip than you’d think, but it reduces the margin for error and reminds you how little runoff there is at the ‘Ring. Under these conditions, a rear-wheel-drive turbocharged Porsche wearing such extreme rubber should be terrifying. And it’s fair to say that, once it’s rolling, the GT2 feels extremely lively. For starters, you can’t lean on the traction control the way you can in, say, a BMW M3 or a 911 GT3. Exiting the Hatzenbach in third gear with a small amount of steering angle applied, the car will snap into an oversteer slide big enough to require almost a whole turn of lock to correct, even though the yellow light has been blinking furiously for some time. In other words, the electronics alone won’t keep you safe.
This is not a car you grab by the scruff of the neck and bully, especially in the wet. At various parts of the circuit, it attempts to spin its wheels in third, fourth, and – much to fellow drivers’ amusement and in some cases consternation – even fifth gear at speeds over 150 mph. But it has so much torque you can leave it in a higher gear than expected, freeing up valuable space in your brain for computing throttle and steering inputs. And even if the flashing yellow light on the dash serves mostly as a warning that you could end up buried in the rail at any minute, the traction control is also very useful. Compared with the old 996-series 911 GT2, there is a safety window of sorts. Accordingly, three laps in, the GT2 is making very respectable progress, and it isn’t wreaking havoc with my nerves. The terrible understeer-then-snap-oversteer of its predecessor is gone, and even though the quieter torque delivery of a normally aspirated engine would be welcomed by most drivers’ nerves, I doubt I’d be any quicker in a GT3. And I didn’t expect that.
It’s hard to imagine two machines that offer a more different approach to going very fast than the GT2 and the GT-R, and the disparity only widens when the weather turns lousy. The GT-R, with its clever all-wheel-drive system, should offer a far more secure experience, but the fact that we’re already in the conditional tense should give you a clue as to what is really the case. In the wet and the damp, and on a cold surface that denies it the tire temperature it needs to operate to its proper abilities, the GT-R feels every bit as big as its 3882 pounds suggest. Like the GT2, either axle will relinquish grip at any time, but the lack of longitudinal adhesion is only the most surprising problem. The main issue here is that, for anyone who has experienced its extraterrestrial abilities, the GT-R is loaded with expectations – you expect it to fashion something from nothing – but a wet Nürburgring vanquishes its indomitability. It’s still far more drivable than something so heavy and large has any right to be, but on the treacherous slippery sections that had the GT2 instantaneously slithering a car width to the outside of a turn, the GT-R’s greater mass forces it out even farther. We complete two laps like this, and they aren’t especially pleasant. Then, with no warning, the clouds disperse, beams of sunlight pierce the gloom, and within minutes, wisps of vaporized water are rising from the track. At this rate, there will be something approaching a dry line at the very end of the day. There won’t be time to build up to a fast lap, though; instead, it will be a case of an out lap, a flyer to set a time, and then an in lap to de-jangle the nerves. At the very least, it will make for an even contest: a driver who knows the circuit well and the shortest possible timeframe in which to get the job done. The GT2 may have had an advantage in the wet, but with the GT-R’s dual clutch transmission and sticky Bridgestones on a dry surface, it will surely be possible to extract a greater percentage of the GT-R’s performance potential.
Nissan claims that the GT-R can lap the ‘Ring in 7 minutes, 29 seconds, wearing the original-equipment Dunlop tires that are about 5 seconds per lap faster than the also-original-equipment Bridgestones on this car. Porsche claims the GT2 will run a 7-minute, 32-second lap. Given the low temperatures, the few damp patches on the circuit, and the fact that, unlike the guy who set the Porsche’s time, I haven’t won a World Rally Championship, we don’t expect to match the manufacturers’ claims, but we should get a very good idea of which car is faster.
In these conditions, the GT2 has more straight-line speed than the Nissan, so it feels like a much faster car. Exiting the Hatzenbach, the early, technical section of track, I’m short-shifting everywhere. This is partly because I’m unsure whether full-afterburner is possible on the exit of some turns, but also because the car chews through each gear so quickly that, given an option of two-hands-on-the-wheel security and marginally reduced propulsion, I’m staying with it. To give you an idea of its ability to wind on the numbers, even using this early-shift technique heading downhill to Schwedenkreuz (to allow for a few damp patches), the GT2 hits 162 mph. The GT-R, using every last revolution and with its instant gearshift, manages only 157 mph.
With the tires warming up, the GT2 starts to work. To extract the most from the Porsche, one hews to the following principle: use as much gas as you think possible, then use a little more until you become alarmed by how fast you’re going, and then brake as late as possible for every corner and carry as much speed through each apex as the tires will allow. Sounds simple, right?
In fairness, this is a much more well-sorted machine than the version it replaces. It is still unsettled by certain bumpy sections, and if you carry too much speed into a turn, it understeers like hell and then threatens to punish any throttle lift with a wild hip movement that could result in the use of dental records. But the fundamentals are very, very good. The fifteen-inch carbon-ceramic front brakes are faultless: so powerful and reassuring you wish every performance car had a set. Lateral and longitudinal traction are superb, and, when there’s a chance to let it run in the higher gears, it pulls numbers that would shame many racing cars. Up the hill from Bergwerk, it’s necessary to brake for a left-hand kink that is a touch damp, but the GT2 still manages to hit 148 mph before braking for the next bend. The GT-R doesn’t need anything like the same lift but can reach only 140 mph at the same point. This is what the GT2 does so well – relentlessly shrink the straight stretches between the turns. On the main straight, it reaches 181 mph (by which time the speedometer is well into the 190s), whereas the GT-R is all done at 168 mph.
But the Nissan loves the dry pavement. Its Bridgestones key into the surface, and it instantly feels 400 pounds lighter than it did in the rain. Its composure is frankly astonishing – the way its suspension deals with the car’s mass and retains control is unlike any other car I’ve driven. In the Porsche, you use at least half of your brain’s processing power just managing the controls and not overstepping the point at which physical injury becomes a concern, but in the GT-R, that figure is reduced to perhaps 30 percent. Of course, there’s danger everywhere, but the car is slower in the straights and the transmission is simply brilliant – it will pull full power from any turn without any hesitation. An example of how clever the chassis electronics are: through the off-camber right-hander called Eschbach – a turn that should suit the lighter, more liberally rubbered Porsche – the GT-R sails through at 74 mph. The GT2 can only manage 70 mph. This happens at several points on the circuit: the Nissan’s freakish stability allowing it to carry more speed in the most unlikely of places.
For me, the result was a forgone conclusion. The moment you feel how physically fast the GT2 is, you can’t believe that the GT-R could possibly beat it. Of course, the GT-R doesn’t acknowledge the usual formalities of science and somehow got itself to within seven seconds of the Porsche’s time. The final scores are: Porsche, 7 minutes, 49 seconds; Nissan, 7 minutes, 56 seconds. There is no doubt in my mind that the Porsche will go substantially faster, given a drier track and some time to build confidence on the really hairy parts of the circuit.
The GT-R is an immense achievement – it costs more than $100,000 less than the Porsche, and it has four seats and an automatic gearbox. But even with those sticky Dunlops, it’s hard to see where Nissan could have shaved an extra 25 seconds. We wouldn’t want to detract from Nissan’s achievement with this car, but it should be acknowledged that on the same day, with the same driver, the GT2 was the faster car. Now, would it be possible for Ferrari and Lamborghini to become embroiled in a spat over the relative speeds of the 599GTB Fiorano and the Murciélago LP640 around, oh, I don’t know, maybe Watkins Glen?
The Big Picture
The complete lap shows that the GT-R and the GT2 are very close in terms of apex speeds. Through quicker turns, the GT2 generally holds an advantage thanks to its lower weight and better resistance to understeer. However, whenever bumps, surface changes, and turn-in points meet, the GT-R gives the driver confidence to carry more speed. In the end, the Porsche is 6.9 seconds quicker.
Porsche 997 GT2 7 min, 49 sec
Nissan GT-R 7 min, 56 sec
- 0-60 MPH
- 3.4 sec
- 3.9 sec
- 0-100 MPH
- 0-150 MPH
- 11.6 sec @ 122 MPH
- 12.0 sec @ 126 MPH
- 70-0 MPH Braking
- 149 ft
- 157 ft
- Speed in Gears
- 1)38 MPH
- 1)47 MPH
- Cornering (L/R)
- 0.99/0.99 G
- 1.16/1.17 G
- 3882 lb
- 3300 lb
- Weight Dist. F/R