Mastering Laguna Seca with the 2013 Nissan GT-R

Participating in a Nissan GT-R Experience event intended to let owners get some track time, CNET tests the limits of the latest version of this high-tech machine.

Nissan GT-R
GT-R drivers learn to handle Laguna Seca's famous corkscrew. Nissan

SALINAS, CA--On a recent Friday at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Nissan hosted a group of 2012 GT-R owners as part of the rollout of the revised 2013 version of the car. This was one of three such gatherings nationwide, and about 35 owners were present with their cars, while Nissan provided demo versions of the 2012 GT-R for invited members of the media. Also on hand were instructors from the Skip Barber Racing School, providing tips on driving lines and technique in a series of morning sessions using the current cars, and giving full-tilt rides in the new cars in the afternoon.

Needless to say, we knew we were in for an enjoyable and informative day behind the wheel, but our passenger-seat time was greatly enhanced when we were paired up in the media group with British-born professional driver Alex Lloyd, who now lives in Indianapolis (where he has finished as high as fourth in a certain 500-mile race) and was present as part of his gig moonlighting as a freelance blogger. While he had never previously been to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, we learned much from riding along while he wrung out the GT-R in his stints at the wheel.

First, we looked over examples of the 2013 GT-R, and learned about its differences from the current car, notably 15 more horsepower for a total of 545 and a bump in torque from 448 to 463 lb-ft. The participants were then split into groups, which rotated through various exercises intended to familiarize us with some of the trickier bits of the track while of course giving us the chance to explore the GT-R performance envelope in a controlled environment.

Our group started with turn 2 at Laguna, the Andretti Hairpin at the end of the front straight. Each driver took a few runs, starting from rest and turning around to come back after the turn, and getting coached via radio by the Skip Barber reps. After some quick slalom runs and two-car drag races on the front and pit straights, we repeated the learn-the-turn drill through the famous Corkscrew at the top of the hill. The morning closed with a video presentation of the data-capture capabilities of the GT-R, which matched an in-car camera to the impressive range of telemetry accessible through the GT-R's OBD-II port.

After lunch, we got a little taste of the new car's feel with some follow laps behind the instructors, then a proper display of its capabilities as passengers while the instructors drove laps closer to the limit. Our group finished the afternoon back in our 2012 models, with a timed run through an autocross course set up in the paddock area. No points for guessing who clocked the media group's quickest lap.

After somewhat limited exposure, our impression is that the new car is everything the GT-R has always been, including constantly improving. Suspension tweaking and new custom Dunlop tires have the car feeling more compliant than the sometimes-harsh earlier cars, although how this translates to normal-road feel (not to mention with various combinations of ride control settings in effect) remains to be seen. The price has risen rather considerably since the GT-R's original launch for the 2009 model year, but still represents a fair bargain given the company it keeps. We look forward to a full Car Tech review of the 2013 Nissan GT-R soon.

 

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