In the first year of the Japanese championship’s new regulations cycle, Nissan managed to win two races – both at Suzuka – and remain in contention for the title up until the final race with works NISMO pair Ronnie Quintarelli and Tsugio Matsuda.
However, a disappointing showing in last month’s Fuji season finale, where the NISMO GT-R struggled to make its tyres work in the cold conditions, meant that Quintarelli and Matsuda fell short, extending a GT500 title drought for Nissan dating back to 2015.
Nissan struggled for competitiveness on all four visits to Fuji (only managing a best finish of sixth across all four of its cars at the Toyota-owned track) but excelled around the very different circuit layout of Suzuka, where it scored a one-two in the October race.
Looking back on the season, NISMO COO Motohiro Matsumura told Motorsport.com he was satisfied with how the campaign panned out, particularly after the difficulties experienced by the GT-R contingent in pre-season testing and the opening races.
He explained this was partly a knock-on effect of the COVID-19 pandemic that placed the season on hold for three months after the first official test in March.
Asked whether the 2020 season could be considered a success for Nissan, Matsumura replied: “Yeah, especially considering at the beginning of the season, the very tight schedule impacted the development, especially the manpower. We couldn’t supply everything [quickly enough], so this is why we were behind schedule with the development.”
“Also concerning the concept, the GT-R emphasises downforce to improve in high-speed corners. But the trade-off of drag and downforce meant that the drag was a bit higher than the previous model. That gave us a disadvantage, especially at Fuji.
“At Suzuka, it was the opposite and we had an advantage in the high speed corners. That’s why we won both Suzuka races, and even with the help of the safety car in the second Suzuka race, Impul finished second [and therefore would have won without it].
“But not only were we behind on the development, with the new [Bosch] ECU and the system calibration, we had to catch up to return to normal competitiveness.”
#23 MOTUL AUTECH GT-R
Photo by: Masahide Kamio
Matsumura explained that the focus on increasing downforce for the 2020 car stemmed from the struggles Nissan had in the previous GT500 rules cycle – the first in which the Yokohama-based manufacturer failed to win at least one title since introducing the GT-R.
“The first generation of GT-R [with the common chassis, used in 2014-16] was quite strong compared to its rivals,” said Matsumura. “But after that people were concerned that corner speeds were getting too high, so all the manufacturers agreed to reduce downforce [for 2017]. That meant that the front splitter length was shortened.
“That meant the second generation was quite tough for us, compared to Toyota and Honda. Then for the third [current] generation we emphasised development of downforce.”
Improved reliability a focus for 2021
Matsumura emphasised his desire for all four GT-Rs to be contending for race victories next season, after a troubled year for the three remaining Nissan squads outside of the works NISMO car: NDDP/B-Max Racing, Team Impul and Kondo Racing.
He admitted that those teams’ failure to break the top 10 in the standings was partly “due to the minor trouble we experienced with the transmission, or such kind of failures”.
#3 CRAFTSPORTS MOTUL GT-R
Photo by: Masahide Kamio
Matsumura continued: “So we need to improve the ordinary maintenance cycle to improve reliability. That is something we need to understand.
“Sometimes [problems happen] because of the human factor. In the works team every mechanic reaches the same level as the engineers [in terms of professionalism]. But in Japan, some mechanics working for privateer teams work in other categories than SUPER GT, so they are very busy. Sometimes there are minor mistakes or not such deep digging.
“This is why we want to improve communication and help the privateer teams reach the same level as the works team.”
Addressing in particular a sub-par year for the Impul car shared by Daiki Sasaki and GT500 newcomer Kazuki Hiramine, Matsumura cited the difficulties in finding a suitable set-up for the sole GT-R in the field running on Bridgestone tyres.
Sasaki and Hiramine placed 13th of 15 crews in the championship, with their next best finish after their runner-up spot at Suzuka being seventh in the season finale.
“Considering the Bridgestone tyre and the GT-R combination, only one car is racing for us. Compare that with Toyota, they have five cars,” Matsumura pointed out. “So it’s a little bit restricted to test and analyse. In this case, the tyre matching is difficult.
“We will try to test [this winter], but the total test time is restricted [by the GTA] to keep competitiveness. Impul is a great team, in Super Formula they are showing it, and they have two great drivers. But it takes time to find the right setting.”
#12 Calsonic IMPUL GT-R
Photo by: Masahide Kamio