Vince Pornelos / Vince Pornelos, Inigo Roces | January 25, 2016 19:17
The Gathering of Soul
Incredible, was the thought in my mind as Mount Fuji got larger and larger in the windows of our bus. The coming winter had capped the famed volcano with snow, serving as the centerpiece and the most recognizable symbol of Japan.
The volcano, however, was not our destination but merely a backdrop to a very specific kind of automotive event at one of the Meccas of the racing world. We were headed to the Fuji Speedway to attend the famous Nismo Festival, an annual event held by Nissan and attended by tens of thousands of Nissan enthusiasts to celebrate their passion for their cars and the brand's rich racing heritage.
And there really is nothing in the world quite like it.
Only when you enter the gates of the Fuji Speedway do you realize the scale of what Nissan does every year. Nearly all the parking lots we passed by were full of the cars of those who made the pilgrimage to rural Japan. Much like most Grand Prix certified tracks, Fuji is located far outside the city at the foot of the volcano that lends the circuit its name.
Upon parking, you begin the trek to the main events areas of which there are three: the stands event area behind the grandstand, the racing event area which is the circuit itself, and the paddock event area behind the pit building.
The Nismo Festival is actually the one event where Nissan brings out many of their most extreme and historic race cars out of their Zama Collection to be run and driven hard. From classic Z cars to Le Mans/IMSA sports prototypes, from JGTC to Super GT, most of these race cars are actually parked inside the pit building for visitors to see up close, and most of them are driven on the track for the many demonstration runs by Nismo drivers.
Many of the Nissan racing drivers here are actually quite excited for their own respective runs in the historic cars. For many of them, it's an opportunity to drive the race cars that they saw on TV as children. Even Jann Mardenborough, the first champion of Nissan's GT Academy, was excited to drive and see the Nismo cars that he himself only enjoyed in Gran Turismo.
The Nismo name itself is a portmanteau of NISsan MOtorsport, and started 31 years ago when Nissan joined their two divisions responsible for racing activities. Today, Nissan supports the many private and factory teams that race their cars around the world.
Away from the garage, I made my way around the paddock grounds and into an atmosphere that is best described as candyland for Nissan's most hardcore fans and followers. The temperatures may be in the single digits, but it's hard to walk around, given the sheer number of attendees who came to see the race cars, the tuner cars, buy merchandise and more.
And it's easy to see why as many of Japan's most famous tuners and Nissan racing teams have set up booths to market their gear. From Team Impul, Top Secret, Nismo, Volk Racing, Bride, and Mine's, the paddock event area is the place to be, especially if you're a big Gran Turismo fan... and where you should be careful if you value your savings account.
Top Secret and Mine's are two of the most popular shops when it comes to Nissan customization, and they had numerous parts for sale from something as small as stickers to engine control units and carbon fiber components. Sparco, likewise had a booth, but branded it as an outlet store selling shift knobs, gloves, racing suits, seats and all other kinds of gear. Numerous stalls also sold accessories like vanity plates, while some sold die cast scale models of Nissan cars; one tent even had hyper-detailed scale models of Nissan's RB26DETT engines for sale. For those who were looking for jackets and shirts Team Impul proved to be very popular with their signature shade of “Calsonic” blue, but they ran out of jackets mid-day.
But don't stay in that area too long because there really is a lot to see, especially on the race track. The paddock area is actually a nice place to view the racing action on the track, as Nissan scheduled several exhibition races like the Bride Z-Challenge (Nissan Z cars), the GT-R Prestige Cup, and the Historic Car race. The last one proved very exciting to watch, especially as it's rare to see Hakosuka GT-R's, 240Z's and Datsun 510's racing wheel to wheel, much like they did in the 1970's.
For a fee, visitors were able to take part in something called a Circuit Safari. Much in the same way that an African Safari involves a drive into the wild aboard a reinforced (read: barred) vehicle, in the Circuit Safari, the participants are likewise driven into the wild known as the race track for two laps... though this time instead of animals, all the wild race cars blast past. From the R31 Super Silhouette, the Pennzoil GT-R, the Calsonic Impul R32 Skyline, the Motul Pitwork Z, the Xanavi Nismo R34 GT-R to the latest R35 Super GT cars, all were here to be seen and heard in their full racing glory.
The real highlight of the whole day, however, was the Nismo GP 2015 featuring all their current race cars based on either the R35 GT-R or the 370Z, all of which are actively participating in their respective series from Super GT to the Blancpain Endurance Series. It was really a buffet for any racing enthusiast to see all those loud, proud race cars line up on the grid and set off for their rolling start, a fitting cap to the entire Nismo Festival.
The scale of this one-brand show was simply enormous and the turnout likewise so. The sheer number of cars that Nissan brought out from their museum was incredible, setting the mood for a high octane day. But really, it was the atmosphere was built on a collective passion for automotive performance. Very few automotive companies have this kind of culture surrounding it, and that's what makes Nissan unique. And special.
This is what drives the Nismo Festival, and it's exhilarating to have been amidst 30,000 of their most loyal enthusiasts to see it happen.