We do love a good bit of innovation here at Roadshow, and when it comes to progressive machines, the Acura NSX is certainly pushing the envelope. With its performance-oriented hybrid setup, torque-vectoring all-wheel drive system and peerless flexibility, this new NSX is a hell of a package.
But the original NSX was born to race, and race it did -- very successfully. It just wouldn't have been right if this new NSX didn't get a chance to prove its stuff on the circuit, too. Enter the NSX GT3, FIA-certified and ready for racing. This isn't just a sexed-up roadcar, this is the real thing. Join us as we strap in and take it for a spin.
The quest for legality
Not all road cars were meant to be race cars, but the "win on Sunday, sell on Monday" mantra is as true now as when it was first coined over 50 years ago. With a racing history as long and as storied as Honda, it may have seemed inevitable that the new NSX would hit the track, too. Actually, it wasn't so straightforward.
That new is bristling with modern drivetrain advancements, including not one but three electric motors, two up front that give the car all-wheel drive as well as some properly advanced torque vectoring.
It makes for a wonderfully versatile road car, but it also makes for a drive train layout that's illegal for FIA-certified competition. To earn the right to go racing, Honda had to do a fair bit of pruning.
The FIA GT3 specification includes many desirable production cars like the Lamborghini Huracan and Ferrari 488 GTB. However, it does not currently allow either hybrid drivetrains or AWD configurations. Two of the NSX's biggest tricks would have to be yanked.
But the twin-turbo V6 remains in very much the same configuration as the road car. The engine itself is virtually untouched, as are the turbos and intake. Only the exhaust has been redesigned, as allowed by FIA regulations. The steering rack stays stock, and the chassis is largely the same, too, with the primary addition being a full roll cage for stiffness and safety.
Other changes include an FIA-spec six-speed transmission, race-ready suspension and a giant fuel tank to keep the thirsty thing quenched. Oh, and those lovely carbon-ceramic brakes on the road car? Gone, replaced by steel units.
Finally, the body has seen a thorough going-over, with massive fender flares on all corners, a giant splitter up front paired by a huge rear wing and a hood that's now little more than a cavernous scoop. With these changes, the car breathes better, cools more efficiently, and perhaps most importantly, generates far more downforce than the road car.
The day of the GT3 drive started with me getting to the track early, watching the teams unload their cars from the trailers and prep them for a day of abuse. Soon after, I slotted in behind the wheel of a road-going NSX for a series of sighting laps at Gingerman Raceway, a great little circuit in southwestern Michigan.
The circuit has a good mix of fast and slow turns, including a few that fall away and can lead you into trouble. Thankfully, it's a track I already knew well, so I spent the most of the morning getting reacquainted with the car, which I hadn't driven for quite some time.
And it didn't take long for me to recall just how accessible the NSX is. Given its performance, this is an incredibly easy car to drive, which has led many to label it as a bit boring. Push the car harder, though, and it really starts to come alive. Those electric motors up front seem to react best to an aggressive driving style, getting on the throttle early and then catching whatever oversteer comes your way.
I couldn't help thinking, though, that the GT3 would require a bit more finesse.
Before heading out for my first round of hot laps in the NSX GT3 I got a little orientation briefing, covering such subtle details as how to turn the car on. The road-going NSX has an interior that's perhaps a bit basic but is generally quite comfortable. All that's been gutted, replaced with acres of bare carbon fiber and individual toggle switches, knobs and dials for all the key features.
There are some 15 buttons and dials on the steering wheel alone, for things like flashing the headlights, talking on the radio and adjusting settings for traction control and throttle map. Both the antilock braking and traction control systems have 12 separate modes, everything from totally off to heavy rain. I'd be leaving these dials alone.
On the floor, like the road car, are just two pedals: gas and brake. Unlike the road car, though, there is a clutch, a tiny paddle located behind the steering wheel. Race cars can be difficult to launch, and as I was using a hand clutch for the first time, stalling was my primary fear.
With all that swimming in my head, I was guided to an angrily idling car waiting for me in the pit lane. Clambering in through the roll cage I found my way into the seat, strapped myself in, engaged first gear and... yeah, I stalled it. But the engine quickly fired again, and on my second attempt I was away, the car bucking and transmission complaining as I idled out of the pits. Clearly, it wanted to go faster.
Hitting the track
I naturally spent the first lap slow, getting up to speed, getting a feel for things and frankly laughing a lot. With every wisp of sound-deadening material excised in the quest for the GT3's 2,900 pound weight -- about 900 less than the road car -- the GT3 is loud. Turbochargers tend to mute things a bit, but it was eye-opening, and ear-shattering, to hear just what that 3.5-liter V6 sounds like when its throat is properly cleared.
But as my senses returned, I quickly got comfortable in the GT3 and started to pick up the pace, really starting to feel the details, something that's easy to do when all hints of comfort have been pared away in favor of speed. Cinched tight in the racing bucket seat, itself essentially bolted to the floorboards, I felt connected to this car in a way no road cars can replicate -- not even the raucous Ford GT.
The steering is light yet precise, just like the road car, and that's probably the most direct connection between the two machines that you can feel from the driver's seat. That, and the speed with which you gain confidence. The GT3 is legitimately a joy to drive, and while I have no doubt that squeezing out those final tenths of a second on a hot lap in anger would make for a very different experience, at my somewhat relaxed pace it was nothing but confidence-inspiring.
The biggest difference between road car and race car? Other than the noise it has to be the throttle response. While the NSX's electric motors give you a good amount of grunt at any rev and any speed, the GT3 requires a little more finesse to maximize its power band. Keep the revs high, though, and you'll be grinning from ear to ear -- just like on the original NSX.
At the end of a wildly entertaining day hot-lapping both the NSX GT3 and its road-going cousin, I was left having even more appreciation for the production model. That car can come out to the track, lay down some serious lap times, and put a real grin on my face, and then with the twist of a knob transform itself into a passably comfortable grand tourer.
Two amazing machines, and what an incredible experience to drive them both.
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