Quintarelli is gunning for a fifth GT500 title as he goes into his eighth season with Nissan’s flagship NISMO team and his seventh in partnership with Tsugio Matsuda in the #23 car this year, which marks the debut of a new generation of GT-R challenger.
The Yokohama manufacturer had a low-key pre-season test at Fuji Speedway last month, which was beset by reliability issues. Its best laptime across the two days was set by Kondo Racing’s Jann Mardenborough, who was 0.686 seconds slower than Honda pacesetter Tadasuke Makino, while Matsuda was just under a second adrift in the #23 Nissan.
But Quintarelli insists that the timesheets are no undue cause for concern, highlighting the fact that the #23 car was third-fastest in the morning session on the opening day and also that, unlike some of the other Nissan teams, NISMO enjoyed an entirely smooth test.
“At Fuji, the feeling straight away was good,” the Italian told Motorsport.com. “Honestly, we weren’t looking for the laptime. We had many different Michelin tyres to test.
“The car felt like it had potential, but because we were focussed on testing tyres, we couldn’t work so much on the set-up, and we were missing something when there was more rubber on track. We suffered with understeer with the new tyres Michelin brought, which we didn’t try before. We know the areas where we need to work.
#23 Nismo Nissan GT-R: Ronnie Quintarelli
Photo by: Masahide Kamio
“My goal is to be ready to fight for victory in Round 2 [at Fuji]. We want to do well straight away obviously, but we are still working on the car set-up and Michelin is working on the tyres, and we have some development planned.
“For Round 1, we need to understand where we are. It would be nice to finish in the top five, and then fight for victory in Round 2.”
New GT-R “feels like a formula car”
Both Toyota and Honda also have all-new cars for the 2020 season following SUPER GT’s wholesale adoption of the Class One regulations developed in tandem with the DTM.
Quintarelli admits that introducing a new base model to co-incide with the new rules – the GR Supra – is an advantage for Toyota, but at the same time he reckons that this year’s GT-R is the best car Nissan has produced since the first Class One-based machine in 2014.
#23 MOTUL AUTECH GT-R
Photo by: Masahide Kamio
“We knew since last year, when Toyota shook down the new Supra, and we shook down the new GT-R at the same time, straight away they were quick,” said Quintarelli. “And it was the same three years ago when they introduced the Lexus LC.
“Having this kind of opportunity to introduce a new base model is an advantage for them, they can build a perfect car from an aerodynamic point-of-view. For us, we’ve been racing the GT-R since 2008 now, so we cannot change so much.
“But since the Class One regulations came in for 2014, this is the best car I have driven. It’s easier to drive; it almost feels like a formula car.”
Explaining further, he added: “I would say the strongest point is under braking, especially when you are braking hard. In the past we’ve always been a bit struggling with the rear stability, so sometimes we couldn’t go very deep [into corners]. It was hard to find a set-up compromise between braking and having good balance in the middle of the corner.
“The new car is very well balanced under braking, I found it comfortable straight away in hard braking corners. Last year sometimes we also struggled with front downforce, but we improved the aerodynamics and since the Sepang test [in January] it feels more balanced in high-speed corners, more front downforce.”
Pressure on to end longest Nissan losing streak
Nissan is SUPER GT’s most successful manufacturer historically with 11 championship titles, seven of which have come thanks to the NISMO team, but its last title came back in 2015 courtesy of Quintarelli and Matsuda. That means its current drought is its longest ever, having never previously gone more than four years between titles.
Last year the #23 car also endured its first season with no victories since 2013, with only B-Max Racing pair Frederic Makowiecki and Kohei Hirate sparing Nissan a winless year.
For Quintarelli, who admits to being pessimistic during the worst of the coronavirus pandemic that there would be any racing at all this year, the motivation to prove Nissan can still be a match for rivals Toyota and Honda after some lean years remains strong.
#23 Nismo Nissan GT-R: Tsugio Matsuda, Ronnie Quintarelli
Photo by: Masahide Kamio
“We had an amazing period in the early 2010s, we won four titles in just five seasons [in 2011-12 and 2014-15],” the 40-year-old recalled. “Then In 2016 we led the championship almost all year, but we couldn’t achieve it at the last moment.
“Since then we’ve always been there fighting and at one point we’ve led the championship in each of the last three seasons. But it’s frustrating to go four seasons without the title.
“I think a few years ago we had some margin in terms of being a super-professional factory NISMO-Michelin team, but since then Toyota and Honda improved their way to work and now they are at the same level and small details are making the difference. I think we are still there at that level and we have everything we need to challenge.
“Nissan fans are not used to going five seasons without a title and they are putting a lot of pressure on us! And for me personally I really want to win that fifth title in SUPER GT. We are committed, we are ready, and we will do our best to bring back the title.”