Posted: May 31, 2016 Read time: 8 Minutes
Having had over 60 Nissan GTR R35s and their owners through the door at Millbrook Proving Ground on training days in 2009-10, Colin Hoad, CAT Driver Training’s Chief Instructor, thought he would share his training notes with you. Pedalling an R35 around a circuit is not as easy as some may think. Contrary to popular belief the car does need a driver. And if you want to get the best out of an R35 you need a sound technique.
Our club driving days continue to be popular with members. An opportunity to put a face to a forum name and enjoy an adrenalin-fuelled day with like-minded car enthusiasts at Millbrook. Our association with the GTROC and Nissansportz has been strong from the beginning and our relationships continue to grow positively year on year. 2010 has been no exception. CAT Driver Training has hosted 4 car club days with 8 cars on each day and a further 31 individual owners taking performance driver and road and track training courses. A total of 63 GTR R35 owners and their cars through the gates of Millbrook through 2009-10. So what have I learnt about Nissan's long-awaited supercar?
You could wallpaper a large room with what has been written about the R35, the motoring press all agreed it was the “Car of the Year” when launched into Europe - the general feeling being it exceeded expectation in all departments. I won’t waste words covering the ground they have all covered before, my aim is to give you an overview of the R35s dynamic characteristics, the minutia of driving Nissans road-going rocket ship at grip limit. It will give you a flavour of what we cover on club days and 1 to 1 training sessions.
The brakes are more than adequate for spirited road use and those drivers that use their GTR for their daily commute all seem to be happy with them. Some track day users, however, can report fading from high speed and inconsistency in pedal pressures. On a training day, we will regularly see 140mph on the speedo, before braking at the threshold of adhesion down to zero. The brakes are very happy to carry out this task three or four times without any detectable fade. In summary, if you are really pushing on, you may want to consider a fluid and pad upgrade for track days.
The brakes give adequate feedback, not too sharp on the initial press and are easy to modulate as the car retards from speed. The GTR tracks in a straight line under braking on smooth surfaces, but can be nudged off course on an undulating surface. It’s not enough to be alarming but can require an input from the driver to remain on course. In this area, the GTR is also sensitive to tyre pressure change. Although filled with nitrogen at the factory, you will still find an appreciable change in pressures on a hot summers track day - don’t let them get too high.
Drivers often complain to me that the GTR understeers when driving at low speed, when a large steering input is applied - especially on a low grip surface. Their local Tesco’s roundabout is often sighted as the offending corner. With any vehicle there has to be a compromise between ride quality and handling - the GTR is no exception. Read the telemetry and you will see spikes of 1.5g and consistent 1.3g levels of lateral acceleration through a corner at grip limit on a dry surface. In order to support such high cornering forces, spring rates and dampers are tuned accordingly.
They offer limited compliance at low speed, and therefore the tyre struggles to follow the surface of the road when only lightly loaded with a cornering speed relative to a low-speed roundabout, hence the understeer. We can consider two additional features to explain away the unwanted understeer: steering angle; and a rear LSD.
Four-wheel drive assistance on a GTR only begins to intervene when the steering wheel is in the straight ahead position or just a few degrees away from it. In reality, when you are driving around a tight roundabout with a large steering angle applied, you have rear wheel drive only.
The rear LSD aggravates the problem. It enhances the drive to both rear wheels and pushes the nose of the car off-line. Think of your GTR as having 2 ends. It will understeer or oversteer depending on driver input. Once you have induced understeer, if you keep your foot on the gas pedal you will have understeer for the duration of the roundabout. You must reduce the rate of acceleration to allow the front wheels to find grip and then reapply the gas a little more conservatively to ensure you remain within the threshold of grip. It’s no different to driving around a tight track day circuit on a wet day.
It is potentially dangerous to push through the understeer in order to achieve an oversteering exit. If you think of the logic behind that comment all becomes clear. If I am understeering I have little grip left. I have overwhelmed the available grip the tyre can offer at the front of the vehicle. By taking a foot full of gas to power the rear around what happens? I now have no grip left at the front and the rear, and I might spin. Why have I highlighted this particular GTR characteristic? Because it has happened to 2 of my clients!!
I have mentioned that four-wheel drive activates as you exit a turn and unwind the steering. Therefore, the quicker you get the steering wheel pointing in the straight ahead position, the quicker you exit the corner. This is an area most drivers have to spend some time working on irrespective of the vehicle you drive. Untrained track drivers have a tendency to hold the steering angle on for a little longer than they need. In order to achieve the optimum exit speed from a corner, you need to be actively unwinding the steering wheel as quickly as possible as you exit the corner.
Earlier versions of the GTR had a noticeable dynamic vague feel when the vehicle proportioned the available drive around each corner of the car. In the R32’s it lasted a portion of a second and translated back to the driver as a momentary loss of feedback, which resulted in a slight loss of confidence for the driver in the attitude the vehicle would take through a corner. Each version improved as the response time and execution of the four-wheel drive distribution improved. In the R35 the operation of the four-wheel drive is seamless, you know where the wheels are pointing throughout a corner at grip limit. The transition from rear wheel drive to four-wheel drive virtually imperceptible.
It is easy to forget when driving an R35 that its kerb weight is 1740kg. In fact, it is not just easy to forget - it is one of the astonishing features of the GTR. In most driving scenarios it feels significantly lighter. If you are driving a series of long sweeping compound curves the GTR feels at home, moving and fidgeting underneath you, but never making you feel as if it will let go on you. Fast sweepers are rewarding and exciting. The steering in these long high G turns can be lacking in feedback, perhaps a little benign, but you always know where the wheels are pointing. But I have discovered a chink in the warrior's armour.
Ask the GTR to drive through a series of tight sweepers at mid to low speed but at grip limit, and the weight leaps out and gives you a “dig in the ribs”. The same is true if you get too brave in the braking zone. If you do not separate out your braking and steering you can find the rear of the car following you into the corner faster than you want. Trail braking will help the nose of the GTR to turn in, but you cannot take liberties. There is a lot of weight already sitting over the front wheels, so you can only tease the front end in with the brake pedal. Percentage steer versus brake is a sensitive issue if you are looking to hustle a little extra speed out of a lap. Be careful!
Although the dynamic capability of the GTR chassis can leave you feeling as if you can defy physics, the basic rules of performance driving still apply. The car can achieve high G loadings consistently and safely through corners. The drawback of all of that lateral acceleration is, if you go off, you are travelling very quickly. My advice to new owners who want to enjoy a track day in their GTR or perhaps want to drive out for a session on the “Ring” is to keep it simple.
Stick to the golden rules. If you are aggressive and not linear with your control inputs you simply give the vehicle more work to do than it needs. All of that 1740kgs has to be braked, cornered and accelerated - so keep it smooth. The electronic wizardry is best employed helping you to go faster - not correcting poor driving technique. I will emphasize straight line braking as one of our golden rules as it is the safest option with such a heavy car. If you wish to improve your technique and explore threshold braking for example, then come for some training and practice in a controlled and safe environment.
The stability programmes job is to optimise the available grip between the tyre and the road. If you go into a corner a little too fast, the system will intervene to assist you in maintaining your steered route around the corner. It does this by reducing power to the over speeding wheels and braking each wheel individually to help maintain your course. In road mode, the system works a few percentage points under the limit of adhesion. Put the Stability Programme in R mode and it will give you the freedom to drive your GTR over its limit of adhesion before the electronic insurance policy jumps in to help you - it is now working a few percentage points over grip limit.
Why is this significant for track users? As you grow in skill and confidence to the point you are driving through the corners close to, or at the limit of adhesion, in road mode the system will be working through every corner and your brakes will get very hot very quickly. If you select R Mode, the system will allow you to circulate the track with freedom to understeer and oversteer without the system working continually and overheating your brakes. Your silent partner is still there waiting to help, it just lets you have a little more fun before it intervenes.
Would I turn the system off? Personally only if I wanted to “go for a lap time”, drift, or power slide through a corner. In summary, safety first. Leave the system on unless you have a very good reason to turn it off.
The R35 GTR has impeccable road manners and a user-friendly personality on circuit. It is so good it is easy to forget that just like any other car it has 4 tyre contact patches - each one just a little bigger than a CD case. What an amazing machine!
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"I have had a reasonable degree of driving training over the years as am ex police officer and advanced police driver. I took the performance driver driver training to learn about track driving, and found it excellent. My instructor was Paul who was fantastic. The training built up during the day and I learnt so much about the capabilities of my own car and although I was nervous about using my own car realised afterwards it was the best thing for me to do. The instruction was extremely informative from an engineering perspective coupled with driving, friendly and tailored to your individual needs and abilities. At no time was I encouraged or pushed to do anything I wasn’t comfortable with. It was extremely professional throughout. I would thoroughly recommend this to anyone whatever your standard of driving."
"Truly exceptional In my experience, driving instruction has generally consisted of being repeatedly told that you are 'doing it wrong' accordingly to some unknown standard or principle that you had hoped to learn about by taking said instruction. Then there is Colin. It is not that common to find an individual who genuinely understands both people and engineering. It is incredibly rare to find one who can actively apply both to deliver a sustained behavioural change. Colin adapts his teaching style to the way you learn. For me, he lead with the WHY of the learning point, grounded in physics and engineering. We'd then put it in to practice, often doing several variants of an excercise to explore how the car reacts to differing inputs, providing valuable context for what good feels like and reinforcing the learning point. Each point built on the previous ones, layering up and coming together in to a whole, one far greater than the sum of it's parts. Subtle changes to huge effect. I was concerned on the day that the learnings would rapidly fade, but I have found that because Colin has taught me an understanding the lessons have persisted, even if I do still need some more practice (48 laps of the Silverstone GP circuit last Thursday definitely helped!). Add to this the fact that Colin is great company and an absolute pleasure to spend time with, and you have one of the most positive learning experiences I've ever known. Truly exceptional. I could not recommend more highly. Thank you!"
"Superb day with calm knowledgable and professional guidance from Paul. Thank you Paul. The course is so well structured consistently building ability and knowledge in complete safety. I fully recommend anyone wishing to increase their knowledge, confidence and experience to attend."
"Far better than any track day you can imagine! There is a massive difference between a typical driver experience or track day events and CAT driver training. The main difference is that you drive your own car to the full extent of it's capabilities, and your own, while being given expert one to one tuition by brilliant trainers Colin and Paul, who come from a Motorsport and auto engineering background. Their combined domain knowledge of engineering and competitive Motorsport allows them to explain the physics of why the car behaves as it does and how you can exploit the cars characteristics for maximum performance., in a safe fun environment. The frankly brilliant experience on the track is matched by the quality hospitality hosted by Jo, and classroom training, which prepares you for what you will experience on the next stage. These stages include such delights as the ring, where you will drive with no hands on the wheel at 100MPH, providing you with a clear understanding of the fact the car finds its own balance , and my personal favourite the alpine stage, with hairpins a plenty and 'character building' drops and rock faces. I have to admit to being slightly 'corner shy' before the training, however after some brilliant coaching from Collin urging me to 'stay on the gas, stay on the gas!' I am now far more confident and safe in the twisty stuff!"
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"First class performance car training day. Many thanks to Paul & your great team for a really enjoyable training day at Millbrook on Friday. I learnt a lot more about the capabilities of my F430 and found many new limits! The attention to detail in the delivery of the training was exceptional. I would recommend this to anyone with a performance car who wants to fully understand and enjoy their vehicle."
"An amazing day. If you drive you should go to CAT. If you have a performance car you MUST go to CAT. A day with CAT will transform your driving, you it be safer on the road in any situation and it will be the biggest performance upgrade your car will ever get. I learned so much in one day without any pressure, effort or stress. Colin's coaching is world class, he makes it simple / interesting to understand and easy to absorb / remember. The whole day and and everything leading up to it are well organised by the team. They REALLY care that you have a great day and TOTALLY deliver. You owe it to yourself to go."
"Absolutely Brilliant! The best advice I can give: believe every one of the glowing reviews on CAT! I approached CAT because I wanted to feel more comfortable with my newly-purchased BMW, the first rear-wheel drive car to be used for every-day driving after decades of FWD cars. I wanted to find out what the car's capabilities are, what it would feel like in extreme conditions, understand what it was telling me at the limits and, generally to get advice on my own technique. I wasn't a novice, having done plenty of track days and laps of the Nordschleife but I just knew that there's always plenty more to learn... A day's Performance Driver session met every one of my targets, and then more! Paul was a patient, logical and technical instructor who took time to explain what would happen in each manoeuvre and then fully debriefed that stage so that I not only knew what the car was doing but also understood what effect on the car my own actions were having. The proof of the pudding was in the final stage - setting consistent timed laps of the handling circuit. I'd worried a little about this all day as I'd have described my driving as enthusiastic but perhaps not consistent. The results were close to unbelievable to me! By remembering all that Paul had demonstrated and explained to me I surpassed my wildest dreams. Fantastic! As a result of this day, I now have more belief in my ability to read what my car's saying to me which brings confidence and relaxation. The car and I are now a team, rather than me just sitting there making it go down the road. I can highly recommend the whole CAT experience. Professional, friendly, patient, technical when required and not afraid to challenge when necessary. Oh, and the lunch is good too! I wish I could afford to go back every month..."
"Achieve your driving goals here! Can't ask for more than that! The entire experience was a positive and pleasant one. Everyone I met at CAT Driver Training contributed positively to the day, regardless of the role, so thank you to Jo, Lynne and of course, Colin! CAT have existing programmes for teaching anyone the fundamentals and advanced techniques of how to drive fast, but Colin can identify really quickly what you can and cannot do, and is quick to understand how to best use your time. I went in with my own unique set of requirements which slightly 'broke' the programme, but it was no problem at all and the most impressive thing was that I achieved my goals by the end of the day! I wanted to understand my car, be able to find and drive at the grip limit, and also understand how to be a faster and better driver. A lot to fit into a day, but Colin managed it in the most efficient way possible, and we achieved them all! Colin has great insights into vehicle dynamics, as well as the human machine behind the wheel. He understands why we sometimes don't function as optimally as we would like! His ability to listen to you, translate your input and isolate what is not working with your current technique helps focus the day on exactly what needs attention. This focus, along with Colin's 'feeling' of how the package of car and driver is behaving, makes him uniquely qualified to provide great direction and input to help you become the best driver possible. A lot of people talk about it, but very few can translate the inputs to a specific process for you to follow as a driver. The process is all about starting with foundations and building on them. It doesn't always seem to make sense, but trust the system - it all comes together in the end! The time is not cheap, but it will help you achieve your goals, so how do you put a price on that!? Thank you CAT Driver Training!!
"Best In Class Driver Training The training provided by Colin at CAT Driver training is superb. I am lucky enough to attended training days with Porsche, Lotus, Aston Martin and the day with a Colin at Millbrook has topped them all being informative, challenging, practical and above all delivered by a true Petrol Head. Thanks again and I will be back with the 911."
"Reminding how to drive fast A day with Colin on a 'One to One' basis is almost essential for anyone who lives on a small rock in the middle of the English Channel or lives in a city. We don't drive fast and don't get the opportunity to drive fast unless we are on a track. Colin spent the day reminding me how much fun it was to have 'fast feet' and to make the Tyres 'squeak' as they reach the sticky limit. I think I lost about 7kg in weight during the day as I was worked so hard but oh what a day. Thoroughly recommended to anyone who had a petrol head. Best bit was the 'Alpine Loop' at the end of the day. Full gas on the exit with all four squeaking. 👍😃"
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"Paul was amazing: awesome teacher with a great brain. Made me realize my Mustang has actually way more grip and better and better handling than I thought. Top notch facilities in Millbrook. Totally worth it."