October 18, 2016

Horse 2176 - Rethinking Godzilla In The Cold Light Of History

It's hard to believe but it's been a little over 22 years since that rainy Sunday in October when "Gentleman" Jim Richards called the motorsport fans of Australia a "pack of nasties*" after winning the Bathurst 1000 in a car which not less than ten minutes earlier, he'd crashed into a wall. Of course this has to be put into perspective when you realise that:
a) The car which had finished second had actually crossed the finish line instead of crashing into a wall.
b) The car which had finished second was a Ford; which is important in a tribal sport like motor racing.
c) The Nissan GTR was seen as being even more cheatery that the Ford Sierra Cosworth because it was four wheel drive as well as being turbocharged.
d) Jim Richards had defected from the Holden Dealer Team to drive a BMW and then a Nissan; which is kind of extra specially cheatery.
e) Jim Richards was a New Zealander, which just made it all worse.

Let's back the whole thing up a bit and look at this.

In 1984, Australia was running a set of Touring Car regulations which took highly modified production cars and pitted them against each other. The problem was that Ford Motor Company of Australia had stopped selling the V8 Falcon part way through XE and there was no V8 XF Falcon. People who were running Fords complained that there would be a day coming soon when the regulations would render the Holden Commodore as top dog because there was no Ford counterpart to the Holden V8. From what I can gather, Ford competitors met with the Confederation Of Australian Motor Sport (CAMS) looked what they could do about the problem and still retain a production based Touring Car category as the premier category of motor sport in Australia; they found it in the FIAs new set of regulations which became known as Group A.
Group A was adopted across Europe and Asia and quickly became the default Touring Car category in the world.

This also allowed Australian competitors to buy cars from overseas; this meant that the Volvo 240T, Jaguar XJS, Rover 3500, BMW 635i and later M3, Ford Mustang and later Sierra, and Nissan Skyline GTS-R started to appear.
Something of a horsepower arms race began with firstly the Rover 3500 and the BMW M3 being the weapons of choice in Europe and then as people learned how to turn the dials of  turbocharging up harder and harder, the Sierra became the absolute capital weapon.

Nissan after running their HR31 Skyline GTS-R to some success but never outright victory in anything, went away and read the rulebook carefully and then designed the R32 Skyline GTR to the letter of what the law would allow. In consequence, unlike the Commodore, Sierra or M3 which were derivations of road cars which went racing, the Skyline GTR was a race car which had had 5000 examples built for the road. It perfectly met the design brief and promptly began winning races around the world; to such a degree that the various motorsport confederations across Europe, Asia and eventually Australia, wrote new rules to exclude the Skyline GTR and it acquired the mystique and the moniker of "Godzilla".
That's the short story of motorsport twenty and a bit years ago but it doesn't quite tell the complete story. The R32 Skyline GTR did win the Bathurst 1000 twice, the Spa 24 Hours once and a record which is always totted out that it won 29 of 29 races in the Japan Touring Car Championship that it was entered in.

I'll speak about Australia first because that's where I live. If you look through the results of the Australian Touring Car Championship for the period, you find that the Skyline GTR had two circuits on which it always consistently failed. The first was Lakeside in Queensland and the other was Amaroo Park in Sydney. Both of these circuits were smaller and tighter than others in the country and the car which consistently beat the Skyline GTR on these circuits was the BMW M3. This was when the M3 was still a 2.5L motor car; which meant that it was physically smaller and therefore nimbler than the competition that it faced. On larger circuits with longer straights, the Skyline GTR could out power other cars and its four wheel drive advantage meant that it could transfer that power to the road better than a Sierra or Commodore could. However, the BMW M3 being a physically smaller thing, could turn tighter and would point more accurately in corners than the Skyline GTR ever could.
For 1992, the Skyline GTR was knobbled with a weight penalty and so it was brought back to the field a little bit but it was still kinder on tyres and as such, won races because tyre performance never dropped off in the same way as it did for other cars.
It's Australian record is that the car arrived in 1990 far too late to have an impact and then when it faced the endurance races, it broke because it was still too new and fragile. In 1991 and 1992 when it won the Australian Touring Car Championship, it was dominant and on the two occasions that it won Bathurst, it was very good but not quite so impregnable that it couldn't be beaten. If the 1992 Bathurst 1000 had gone the distance, then it absolutely would not have won.
In mid 1992, the two big manufacturers in Australia basically conspired to get rid of Godzilla and a set of regulations were developed to kill it off. In 1993 the V8 Supercars regulations came into effect and so the Skyline GTR as far as Australia was concerned was consigned to history.

Therein lies the bigger story. The only place that the Skyline GTR ever faced any real competition was Australia. The European Touring Car Championship was disbanded at the end of 1988; the DTM had changed to a new formula in 1990 and the British Touring Car Championship was run n to a two litre formula from 1991 onwards.

In its native Japan, the R32 Skyline GTR won all 29 of 29 races that it competed in, in the Japanese Touring Car Championship from 1989 to 1993. This very much betrays the fact that it only faced underfunded Ford Sierras in 1989 and the odd one in 1990, and for 1991, 1992 & 1993, it was the only turbocharged car competing; with its opposition being the occasional BMW M3 at 2.5L and 1.6L Honda Civics and Toyota Corollas. If a car which was turbocharged, four wheel drive and not quite double the engine capacity of its competitors couldn't win every single time, then you'd have to assume that there'd been torrential rain.
Actually on that note, when Gibson Motorsport who had run the Skyline GTRs applied to race in the Fuji 500 in 1992, they were denied entry with no explanation given. One can only assume that the Japanese Calsonic team objected because they knew that they be wiped off the floor.

The other record which is waved around is the Skyline GTR's win in the 1991 Spa 24 Hour race. Again, it was the only turbocharged Group A car which had been entered and it's opposition came from some Porsche Carrera 2s, running 3.6L normally aspirated non-turbocharged engines and built to production car Procar Division 4 regulations. There was such a disparity in performance as to be utterly laughable.

The Nissan Skyline GTR R32's record is impressive but when you give it a deeper look, its mainly because the serious competitors which could have faced it, had already left before it arrived. The truest test came in Japan when the R33 came along and eventually as Japan morphed it's premier category into the GT500 class of the Japan Grand Touring Championship, Toyota and Honda both found ways to beat it. It certainly deserves the praise that it gets but as with so many things, context is important.

*not the real word.

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