Text: Anton Andres / Photos: Mike Sabarre, Nissan press, Brent Co | posted October 04, 2016 07:52
A chat with self-confessed "car geek" Hiroshi Tamura
As far as automotive executives go, Hiroshi Tamura is a bit of a rock star. Passionate and enthusiastic, it's safe to say that Tamura is a shining example of someone who lives and breathes cars. A true-blue Nissan fanatic, he was more than glad to share to us just how much work went in his baby, the R35 GT-R.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty details of the R35, let's get to know Tamura-san a little more.
Born in 1963, Tamura-san admits that he has been a Nissan fan for as long as he can remember. His love for the Nissan Skyline started in 1972, watching the Hakosuka GT-R racing in circuits around Japan. The impact of the Skyline influenced Tamura-san into adulthood, saying, “My first car was a 1975 Yonmeri (four-door) Skyline,” adding that he has always wanted to work for the brand since.
He joined Nissan in 1984 and just three years later, was promoted to the company's dedicated performance division, Autech. It would be a long time before Tamura-san would lead the GT-R project although it's interesting to note that he was the product planning head for the A32 Cefiro, a car that's known to be plush, soft and quiet. A far cry from the GT-R then.
In 1997, he was closer to his dream job by being appointed as the product planning head for the GT-R and a few years later, was the man who made significant inputs to the R34 GT-R.
Now at the helm of the R35 GT-R, Tamura-san shared with us the process behind the birth of the 21st century Godzilla and how the 2017 model presents the most significant upgrade the model has seen. Tamura divides the development of the R35 GT-R in three ways: Dot, Line and 3D. The Dot represents the goals, the Line represents application while 3D is combining the two to apply to the real world.
During his presentation, Tamura told us that he initially got flak from his superiors when the first R35 GT-R concept came out in 2001. “Why left handle (left hand drive)?” his seniors asked. He simply replied with, “I want this car for export. The next GT-R should be a global product,” he insisted. Another controversial decision he made for the concept was the lack of a third pedal and to that he responds, “Removing manual transmission gives the driver the chance to concentrate more, allowing him to go faster”. A bold statement, yes, but he does have a point since shifting does take time.
One of Tamura's goal's in the making of the R35 GT-R was to give their halo sports car a more premium feel. In the R34 Skyline, he experimented on a variant that was aimed towards the more mature segment of the market, called the GT-R M-Spec. “In 2001, I didn't understand the mid-50's (age bracket). At that age, people are not focused on Nurburgring lap times,” he said. He gave the car a softer ride, more luxuries and the result was the M-Spec getting 65% of the GT-R's market share. “It showed that a big part of the market wanted a softer ride,” adds Tamura. He decided to combine the more forgiving ride of the M-Spec and the racing feel of the V-Spec in the R35.
Tamura-san then moved to the improvements made to the updated 2017 model. These include reshaped panels, a new cooling system and, of course, more power. Building an engine that punches out 570 PS is the easy part. Making it reliable is a different matter. “Big power creates a lot of heat in the engine. Remember, we live in a 3D world, real life,” he says. As a result, they made the grill wider and the radiator larger to cope with the extra heat it now makes.
On to the question and answer part, I just had to ask Tamura, “How do you maintain driver involvement despite the electronic handling enhancements in the car?”
To further explain, Tamura doodled on a piece of paper. He explained that human skill can only go so far. As for cars, the technological possibilities are endless and serve as the extension of human skill. “You are the commander and the car is the body.”
As for the biggest challenge in the development of the GT-R, he mentioned two: keeping the car reliable, as well as refined. As he explained, “We had to find ways to cool down the engine but adding more cooling (intakes) made for bad aerodynamics. It's all about total balance management”. For refinement, he explained the difference between noise and note. “ Nobody wants to hear noise. But to some car guys, they want to listen to the engine. Exhaust note should come into the car,” he adds.
He also shared a very interesting trivia on Nissan's Guinness record-breaking drift run; he actually headed the program. It was to beat the record held by a Polish rally driver Jakub Przygonski, who made a 217.973 km/h drift on a 1068 horsepower Toyota GT86. Working with aftermarket tuner, GReddy, they built a 1,380 horsepower R35 GT-R to be driven by D1GP Champion Masato Kawabata.
The result was a 273.39 km/h at a 55.21° angle on the very first official run, succesfully breaking the record. Tamura was not satisfied, he wanted to "set a more convincing record that cannot be easily beaten" and was even willing to place a $10,000 wager that the car will be able to make it to 300 km/h. The record was set at 304.96 km/h with a 33.56° angle on the second run and was backed up by a 296.79 km/h drift with a 34.42° angle.
Our time with Tamura was short but sweet. If given the chance, I would have asked far more technical questions but asking him about the R35 GT-R made my respect for Nissan's halo car grow even further. Needless to say, the R35 GT-R is the result of asking a high performance car enthusiast with an engineering background to build a grand touring coupe with sports car reflexes. As for the next GT-R, Tamura stayed quiet but you can be assured that it will be a step higher than the R35. After all, the man is a GT-R fanatic and drives a 600 PS R32 Skyline GT-R himself.