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NISSAN GT-R NISMO GT3
2015 LIQUI-MOLY BATHURST 12 HOUR WINNER
#35 NISMO ATHLETE GLOBAL TEAM -
DRIVERS: FLORIEN STRAUSS/KATSUMASA CHIYO/WOLFGANG REIP
Nissan’s mighty GT-R claimed success in touring car racing at Bathurst in 1991 and 1992, winning the famous Bathurst 1000 in consecutive years with Jim Richards and Mark Skaife. Fast forward into the new millennium and the ‘Godzilla’ of motorsport was still winning on the Mountain, claiming a popular victory in the 2015 Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour for GT cars.
The three-man driver team of German Florien Strauss (a last minute call up to replace Brit Alex Buncombe who stayed in England with the birth of his child imminent), his countryman Wolfgang Reip and Japanese driver Katsumasa Chiyo managed to bring home victory in the thrilling last few laps. It was Chiyo at the wheel that zoomed past the Audi of Laurens Vanthoor and the Bentley of Matt Bell on the last restart with just two laps to go (after a record 20 Safety Car periods had marred the day) to steam away and claim Nissan’s first victory in the Bathurst GT classic. It was something of revenge for the pint-sized Japanese pilot, who had crashed out in the team’s 2014 assault, when he had collected the stranded Clearwater Racing Ferrari, which had come to rest in the sand trap at McPhillamy Park. There were no such problems 12 months later and the race-winning Nissan completed 269 laps (1671 kilometres) and won by 2.4-seconds over the Vanthoor-driven Phoenix Racing Audi.
But the GT-R had very nearly not been on the grid. Chiyo was pushing hard in Saturday qualifying and backed the 3.8-litre, V6 twin-turbo-powered Nissan into the wall at the Cutting. The damage was significant enough for the car to be taken into Bathurst to a local workshop for repairs with work only finishing on it back at the track at 4.30am on race morning – with race start arriving at 5.50am! Chiyo’s qualifying time – prior to the accident – was 2m03.2974s, still good enough to place the Nissan third on the grid behind the Vanthoor Audi and the local Lamborghini of David Russell.
But, as the Sunday proved, it’s not about where you start; it’s about where you finish.
Following its move from production cars to GT machines in 2011, the 12 Hour had proven to be a race quickly grabbing attention worldwide. Nissan sent its GT3-spec GT-R to the 2014 race packed with graduates of its GT Academy - where video gamers had been turned into race drivers in a bold, ground-breaking program – alongside Nissan’s Aussie V8 star Rick Kelly. Kelly and his V8 Supercar brethren were unable to compete at Bathurst in 2015 due to a clashing V8 Supercar test day in Sydney, however the NISMO Athlete Global Team was able to bring home not only an outright victory but also success in the GT3-Am Class.
“It is just unbelievable because I couldn’t imagine that end of the race, with a strong Audi and Bentley and we are still in the amateur class,” said Chiyo of the dramatic finish of the race. “The car is very good, it is very strong on the straight. I tried to imagine, it was just amazing, we couldn’t know what would happen in this race, but we just tried our best in the moment and then I had a chance in the final restart. It was just awesome. The car was amazing, and so was the team.”
Co-driver Reip, who had been part of the team’s ill-fated assault on the 2014 race, could barely watch while sitting in the pit bunker. “It is incredible, our first win for the last two years we have been racing, so really a lot of emotions,” he said. “I took the start this morning, at the beginning of the stint I was following the Audi and then I started to save the car because we knew we had to do it to reach (the fuel window). It was pretty long, a two hour forty minute stint and then Chiyo did a three-hour stint, so it was quite long, but very exciting. “My second stint went pretty well, there were a lot of Safety Cars but I could reach the pit in time. It was very stressful as we had a strategy and then with the Safety Cars we did not know what would happen – we didn’t really expect any more to win, but the last 10 minutes was incredible. The car was very good here; it is definitely a track that suits us. It was a good race.”
Strauss, who had won the NISMO GT Academy in 2013 and had only been racing cars for 18 months, found himself victorious at Bathurst on only his first visit. “It is just awesome, still unbelievable,” he said post-race. “I am very lucky that we have won, no one can say what would you have achieved with Alex (Buncombe), we couldn’t have achieved a better result. The team did an amazing job all weekend, Chiyo put the car in first place, the team put all the effort in to get the car ready in the morning.
“The car gave me a lot of confidence, I got up to speed quite well I guess, not too far away from my team mates. My stint was amazing, a bit long and a lot of Safety Cars. Disappointingly, half way from the end of the race we were in third place, but Chiyo put the hammer down at the end and we achieved a good result, and it’s awesome for Nissan.”
The victory was a popular win all round and, unlike the last GT-R win on the Mountain in 1992, there were no ugly scenes on the podium or character references of the crowd given by the victorious drivers!