Nissan recorded a historic victory at yesterday’s Bathurst 12 Hour, ending a 23 year win drought for the manufacturer’s flagship GT-R model at Mount Panorama.
Japanese driver Katsumasa Chiyo produced two sensational passes on the penultimate lap to take the #35 NISMO Global Athlete Team Nissan GT-R (which he shared with Wolfgang Reip and Florian Strauss) from third to first place.
Nissan’s last major success down under came at the 1992 Bathurst 1000, when Mark Skaife and Jim Richards won in a Skyline GT-R. Yesterday’s triumph proved that the Nissan flame is still burning bright in Australian motorsport over 20 years on, and that the marque’s GT Academy programme has created a team of drivers capable of winning at the highest level.
The feat was made even more impressive by the fact that the NISMO mechanics had conducted an overnight rebuild of the car following a hefty crash during Saturday practice. The crew worked through the night to produce a race-ready car until 04:30 AM, just over an hour before the start of the race.
Wolfgang Reip piloted the first stint in the #35 GT-R NISMO, and was the only man capable of providing an answer to the ferocious pace of former F1 driver Markus Winkelhock in the #15 Phoenix Racing Audi R8 LMS Ultra. Reip stayed in close contact with the leaders throughout the early stages, giving his NISMO team-mates a healthy track position for the tail end of the race.
The unforgiving nature of Australia’s most famous circuit was evident throughout the 12 hours, with 20 incidents necessitating the deployment of the Mercedes safety car. The NISMO team, however, emerged relatively unscathed, allowing Chiyo to mount a challenge on the leaders in the final 10 minutes.
Chiyo’s quick thinking enabled him to dive on the inside of Laurens Vanthoor’s Audi at the restart, promoting himself to second. The 27 year old then used the superior straight line speed of the Nissan GT-R NISMO to power past the leading #10 M-Sport Bentley of Matt Bell, before establishing a healthy lead that saw him safely through to the finish.
“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 an elated Chiyo.
“The car is very good, it is very strong on the straight. 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.”
Florian Strauss, who was a late addition to the team after original driver Alex Buncombe was called to the birth of his first child, commented, “It is just awesome, still unbelievable. 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.”
Reip added, “It is incredible, our first win for the last two years we have been racing, so really a lot of emotions. 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 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 ten minutes was incredible. The car was very good here, it is definitely a track that suits us. It was a good race.”
“This is a truly historic result for Nissan,” said Darren Cox, Global Head of Marketing for NISMO. “It is another great chapter in the history of NISMO and the legendary GT-R. I am proud of the teamwork from a global group of committed Nissan and NISMO racers in the car, garage and behind the scenes keeping the fans up to date. The news will reverberate from Australia to Japan and into Europe especially Belgium, Germany and the UK.”