Nissan GT-R Group A: Bathurst Legends Pt.8

By: Scott Newman, Photography by: Ellen Dewar, Nathan Duff

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Bathurst legends: Part 8 of our series on Mount Panorama hero cars

Nissan GT-R Group A: Bathurst Legends Pt.8
Bathurst legends: Nissan GT-R

 

Nissan GT-R Group A

It's the most hated car in Australian motorsport history, and responsible for one of the most famous, or infamous, moments in Bathurst folklore. "It's affectionately known as the 'Pack of Arseholes' car," grins current owner, Terry Ashwood.

More has been written about that race than possibly any other in Bathurst history, but here's a quick recap. Starting from third on the grid, the Gibson Motor Sport Nissan GT-R of Mark Skaife/Jim Richards passed the Sierra of Dick Johnson/John Bowe for the lead on the second lap and remained there until lap 144, when a freak storm turned the Mount Panorama circuit into a swimming pool.

Johnson pitted for wets while Richards, caught on slicks at the top of the mountain, hit the wall. Sporting heavy damage, he attempted to limp it back to the pits but only got as far as the exit of Forest Elbow before aquaplaning into a number of crashed cars. The race was red-flagged and Johnson and Bowe thought they'd won.

"I can clearly remember walking down to the podium thinking, 'We've won this', because I don't ever read the rules," recalls JB. "Dick thought we'd won as well, and the crowd thought we'd won. That's what the abuse was about: Japanese car, Dick Johnson being a hero to the people, and they really wanted Dick to win."

In the case of a red flag situation, the results from the lap prior are counted, and at that point, the GT-R was still miles in front. The crowd below the podium didn't know or didn't care and started hurling beer cans and chanting "Bullshit! Bullshit!" as Skaife and Richards took the stage.

Then-Nissan boss Leon Daphne began playing whack-a-bogan with his umbrella, while Richards delivered his infamous monologue: "I'm just really stunned for words, I can't believe the reception. I thought Australian race fans had a lot more to go than this, this is bloody disgraceful. I'll keep racing, but I tell you what, this is going to remain with me for a long time, you're a pack of arseholes."

But there was more to Richards' comments than just hurt feelings. Richards' Kiwi compatriot, 1967 F1 World Champion Denny Hulme, had died of a heart attack during the race, his BMW M3 coming to an awkward halt on Conrod Straight on lap 33.

There had been pre-race tension, too. To slow the Nissans down, Gibson was ordered to add significant ballast to the cars. "We finished up being 1600kg. I was dark about that because it's dangerous when you start putting another 150-200kg of weight in the car. So what we did is put it low down in the car - we filled the rear cross-member up with lead pellets."

The 1992-spec GT-R was also fitted with a pop-off valve on the engine that would bleed off any boost in excess of 1.3bar. The measures worked, with Skaife's 1992 qualifying time almost two seconds slower than his 1991 pole position effort, though Gibson says that the weight was the biggest factor: "You just work harder with what you've got; we ended up running at Bathurst in '92 with more horsepower."

The GT-R is often blamed for the demise of the Group A regulations but, as Gibson says, "Group A killed itself by letting the regulations get to what they did. Nissan built a car to the Group A regulations and if it had've kept going, someone else would've built a better mousetrap than what Nissan was building. It was just becoming unbelievably expensive."

JB agrees: "There were lots of manufacturers in Group A when it started, and it slowly tapered away as it got more and more sophisticated. The GT-R had a 2.6-litre engine, 11-inch wheels, active diffs - it was the next generation."

But singing the car's praises doesn't give credit to the enormous amount of work Gibson Motor Sport put into making its Australian GT-Rs the world's fastest by a significant margin. "When it came out here, every touring car wanted to beat the Godzilla, whereas in Japan they didn't have to race anyone else other than other Skylines." says Gibson. "We did the whole thing in-house: we did our own engines, we started making our own wheels and uprights, we developed the [switchable] four-wheel drive system."

Gibson's electronic wizards had created a four-mode, four-wheel drive system. Starts were done in rear-wheel drive to avoid bogging down, then four-wheel drive engaged once the car was rolling and adjusted to varying degrees depending on tyre wear, fuel load and weather conditions. "The Japanese couldn't believe how we did it," laughs Gibson.

Today, current owner Terry Ashwood races the car in Group A Historic Racing, allowing a new generation of motor racing fans to experience the most expensive, most technologically-advanced touring car Australia has ever seen in full flight. With the passing of time, fans respond much more warmly to Godzilla. "There's much more love and appreciation now for Sierras and Skylines than there was in the day," says JB.

Thanks to the Bowden Family, Terry Ashwood, and Lakeside International Raceway

Career highlights: Nissan GT-R Group A

· 1991 Tooheys 1000 - 1st (Skaife/Richards)

· 1991 ATCC - 1st (Jim Richards, 4 wins)

· 1992 Tooheys 1000 - 1st (Skaife/Richards)

· 1992 ATCC - 1st (Mark Skaife, 4 wins)

 

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