Driven – The 700hp carbon clad R35 GTR

‘Do you want to have a drive?’ When this question is asked of me, the answer is almost always invariably ‘yes’, said without a moments hesitation. But when this completely unexpected question was asked in relation to Seb’s R35 GTR, my initial reaction was a strange combination of extreme trepidation, nervousness and excitement.

Before we answer this question, let’s just take a moment to consider this car. It has 700 horsepower at the wheels. People toss numbers like that around with nonchalance, but it’s only once you’ve fully experienced it can you begin to understand the enormity of that figure. That amount of power quite literally takes your breath away under full acceleration. The GTR has big Brembo calipers clamping onto the same carbon ceramic rotors used on the Ferrari Enzo, raw carbon fiber panels, bespoke Penske suspension, the 6 speed sequential transmission has been modified for faster shifting and last but not least, the cars piece d’ resistance – an active rear spoiler from The Tuners Group that uses it’s own built in G-meter to adjust the angle of the wing to help the car accelerate, brake and turn.

Now of course, when given this amazing opportunity the only real answer to the aforementioned question is yes.

This thing looks evil and intimidating just sitting there. You walk up to it, pop the handle and gently pull the carbon door open. The first thing that strikes you is the roll cage – it’s complexity would rival that of a WRC rally car. But then you notice the quality of the build, how every weld is millimeter perfect how and the cage has been perfectly integrated into the dash and trim. The carpets, the roof lining. Everything is where it should be. It looks like it just rolled out of the factory, like this customer decided to tick the roll-cage box on the order form. Seb tells me that this was no accident and that a great deal of time and effort was put into making it so. The dash was re-installed with the windscreen out and before the final bars of the roll cage were welded in place, which means it is impossible to now remove it in one piece.

With the lightweight door open, you put your feet in first, grab onto the cage, swing your butt over the side intrusion bar and gently lower yourself down into the Velo race seat, made of course from a carbon kevlar weave. Grab the suede Sparco steering wheel that’s sitting on the dash, clip it back on to its quick release boss, pull over the shoulder straps and click in the 6 point harness. The seats hold your body, and with the harnesses tightened you can’t move your torso at all. The seats are mounted close to the chassis to lower the center of gravity, and with the window net clipped in and the roll cage bars crisscrossing in what seems like every possible direction you feel safely encapsulated. You peer out over the illuminated tacho and the 320kmh speedometer to a good view of the road, the bottom half framed by that super lightweight carbon bonnet.

With your right foot on the brake and the shifter in park, you hit the starter button. The twin turbo E85 fuelled VQ35 fires up in an instant and settles down to a relaxed idle, barely audible through the 5Zigen exhaust system. If you were sitting in the passenger seat and nobody told you what this car was capable of, you’d have absolutely no inclination of the hellfire of acceleration that is about to be unleashed. A slight blip of the throttle would give the game away to a trained ear, but your grandmother would be none the wiser.

Slip the shifter into manual mode, pull up on the right-hand Works Bell carbon shift paddle to engage first gear, release the brake, apply a touch of throttle and the GTR gently takes off. There’s a shudder from the back as the custom clutch pucks take up from such a slow speed, but apart from that it’s all very civilized.

It would be foolish to floor a car like this straight away, so at about 3000rpm I pull the paddle to engage second, and then third. We’re motoring along in the winter sunshine at 60kmh as I’m trying to work out just how I’ve found myself in this semi absurd situation.

But merely motoring along isn’t the point of cars like this one, so as we pass through the dairy farming township of Mt Compass and reach the open road speed zone I glance across to Seb, sitting in his passenger seat for the first time ever. I don’t even need to ask him, he just smiles and nods. I slow right down, clicking the gears back to first. It’s funny how life sometimes comes down to these moments, when you’re about to do something bigger than you’ve ever done before and you just know that your life will never be the same again. Ah well, here goes nothing…

The next few seconds are a blur. My foot went down, and it seemed as soon as my brain had even processed that we’d began to accelerate I look and see the illuminated tacho needle fast approaching the red. Click into second, our bodies are assaulted with G-Force slamming us back into the seat when all of a sudden that needle is back in the red, click up into the next gear. By the time we’d reached the third of six gears it was well and truly time to reduce our velocity. A slight application of the brakes had the carbon ceramic rotors working very quickly bring the world back down to normal pace.

I was lucky enough to spend about an hour behind the wheel, however this car is simply too fast for the public road so my time was mostly limited to the kind of motoring that doesn’t really require 700hp. What we really needed was a long weekends worth of closed roads, but that’s an impossible dream. Or is it?

I was Seb’s co-driver for the Adelaide Hills Tarmac Rally and we were using the GTR as an official course car. As a part of the course car team we did have a specific and important job to do to ensure the safety of spectators and crews during the event, and we had a limit placed on the top speed we could achieve. It wasn’t all fun and games, but it did give me a chance to feel what the GTR is like through the tight twisty Adelaide Hills roads. It’s mind numbingly quick out of the corners, that’s a given. But it was the way that it worked with the driver that surprised me. The R35 is widely cited as having more electronic aids than a space shuttle, but they really do allow mere mortals like ourselves to do things we ordinarily couldn’t dream of doing on these kinds of roads. It is evident that whoever programmed these computers has a healthy sense of adventure, as the GTR’s stability controls even permit little sideways powerslides coming out of tight corners in the wet before reining you in for your own safety.

But it’s these same computers that left me a little cold. As a tool for setting fast lap times (try low 1.12’s around Mallala) and covering ground quickly, Seb’s GTR is like nothing else on this planet. Our in-car footage recorded 1g of lateral acceleration off the line, and a 0-100 time of 2.8 seconds. That is simply astonishing; those sorts of figures were the reserve of dedicated open wheel racecars less than a decade ago, and this in a car that can be driven on the public road. But the fun in this car is what you can do with it; the car itself is simply a tool for completing a job. In terms of pure enjoyment, the R35 is no more fun to drive than an old classic roadster with big Weber carbies. But for those rare occasions when you can really unleash it, it will simply blow you away. And that, in itself, is enough of a reason for me.

Images 8 & 9 courtesy of Viano Jaksa. Thanks!

Note: All road driving was completed at or below the legal speed limit. Any descriptions relate to closed road situations conducted well within the limits set by the rally organisers.

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6 Comments

  1. simon January 19, 2012 Reply

    Hi Andrew

    great article, great site.

    Question: what sort of times was it posting at collingrove?

    regards

    simon

    • Andrew Coles January 24, 2012 Reply

      Hi Simon,

      Thanks very much for the feedback! I've just looked back through my roadbooks and it seems we didn't actually time our Collingrove runs and we hadn't yet started the in-car camera. Given the sort of cars I'm used to it would have been very quick, but nothing close to what the car could do. Seb had never been to Collingrove before and we didn't have time for a recce run, so he was driving it blind and was a little scared of the rocks and tight corners up the top that people had been warning him about.

      I know I certainly freaked out - our first run was my first time even sitting in the car. I had no idea what it could do, he nailed it off the start line and as we got about halfway up the first hill I lost my shit - I thought we were going waaaaay too fast to make the corner. I yelled out, Seb thought there was something wrong so he hit the brakes and suddenly we almost came to a halt way before the first corner - I had no idea they were that powerful. He laughed at me. It was pretty funny...

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