Welcome back to one of the most anticipated events on Japan’s car culture calendar.

After a two-year hiatus, being back in the Fuji Speedway pits for the Nismo Festival was nothing short of electrifying. By that, I don’t mean the direction that Nissan (like most other auto manufacturers out there) is taking with its future cars. What I mean is, the Nismo Festival is a dynamic reminder of why the Nissan brand is so special to so many people.

This event allows fans to relive all the glory in the most sensory-laden way. You see, you hear, you smell the legendary cars that made motorsport history, while famed race drivers of the past and present give them a proper beating on a legendary circuit.

The Racing Side

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You walk past cars that instantly stop you in your tracks. You freeze, ponder at what’s in front of you as you are flooded with memories.

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The Daishin GT300 S15 Silvia is definitely one of those cars for me. It comes from a time when Super GT cars had a more direct link to their production-based machines. These cars were so much more loved by fans the world over, because we all had that inner desire to create something similar with our own road cars. That’s totally out the window these days.

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But the king for me was this car – the final R34 GT500 iteration before Nismo moved to the Z33. No, this car doesn’t run an RB26, but rather the VQ30DETT that would power the Z33 for years to come in GT500, but I don’t care. It’s sublime in every way, and to this day, every time I see it I go weak at the knees.

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It came from a really special time in GT racing.

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In fact, it was just as special as Group A, as I always felt that by 2000 to 2002, the GT500 class had evolved that original idea of having street cars turned into race cars to the nth degree.

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It’s what put Japan, Nissan and its cars on the map, and when the motorsport world really started to take notice.

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Of course, it wasn’t to say that what came before was not important, quite the contrary.

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But it is indeed a tale of growth, development and evolution as the Japanese race series – along with their cars – grew.

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That includes the higher tiers of motorsport, like the Group 7 R382 that was built in 1969 for the Japanese Grand Prix and powered by Nissan’s first V12 engine, a 6.0-liter, 600hp screamer.

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It really set the scene in this particular area of the pits.

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We saw the V12 reappear in the 1992 NP35 after a change in Group C regulations banned turbo motors. However, Nissan ended up suspending its program and this car was only used once.

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But these are just a few examples of a large number of race cars that Nissan built during the course of the ’80s and ’90s, as they participated in countless series both domestically and internationally.

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Keep following the lineage and you soon find the the R390 GT1, built in 1997/98 for Le Mans. That meant a single homologation vehicle had to be made, and Nissan still has it in the Heritage Collection. Eric Comas, the French driver that piloted the Penzoil-sponsored R33 and R34 in JGTC, has a second road-going R390, but that was converted from a race car.

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Powering the R390 GT1’s rear wheels was the VRH35L, a twin-turbo 3.5L V8 pushing out 650hp. It wasn’t the most successful Nissan LM car, but an epic attempt nonetheless.

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Which brings us to this unexpected surprise for 2022, the IMSA Z32 300ZX. This was the first time I had seen and heard it, and it really was a true sight to behold.

On the flipside, seeing this car made me feel a little sad that the Z32 was never used in motorsport in Japan in its era. That job, of course, was left to the R32 Skyline GT-R.

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This IMSA GTS-1 beast is menacing from every angle, but the biggest surprise came when the race engineers cranked its engine into life. It sounded undeniably like a V8, but I was sure the car always ran an 800hp version of the VG30DETT. There was a moment of confusion, but I later discovered that for the last year the car was used, it was powered by a naturally aspirated VH45 V8, hence the sound being made.

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A few steps away was the reminder of where Nissan race cars are at in the present day.

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This is the new-gen Z in all of its Calsonic GT500 wide-bodied glory. It’s also the car that won this year’s championship.

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Every GT500-class Z from the 2022 Super GT season was on display, but better than that, they let everyone have a look at what powers these cars.

Not that you can see much, mind you. It’s definitely not the VR30DETT, as found in the road-going car, but rather the regulation 2.0L four-cylinder turbo engine that is used by all GT500 teams. I think we reached ‘peak GT500′ about 20 years ago when the cars were more relatable to their road-going counterparts. Do you agree with me?

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It’s why I find the GT4 Z quite appealing. The Super Taikyu series that these cars compete in another great championship that mixes pros and gentleman drivers, just like Super GT.

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As I was looking at the GT4 car, I wondered if and when a GT3-spec Z will be made? I’m sure some GT300 teams out there would prefer that over the ageing GT-R.

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Then of course there’s the EV race car debate. Nissan has been involved in Formula E since the beginning, and it’s something that helps them make a statement with their move to electrification. I got the chance to try out the Leaf RC a few years back and it blew my mind. So I’m all for electric cars in motorsports, as long as motorsports still exists as the automobile advances.

The Tuning Side

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Nismo Festival is as much about motorsports and heritage as it is about tuning. There’s always so much to see in the Fuji Speedway paddock, starting at the Nismo tent where prohibitively-expensive restoration and tuning packages are promoted. And it’s not only the old R32/33/34 GT-Rs that steal all the limelight, the R35 still gets space. In fact, Omori Factory’s development car was getting a lot of attention as it was sporting a new carbon hood design currently being tested. Thoughts?

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In a month from now we will be in full Tokyo Auto Salon mayhem mode and Japan will be Z-crazy for a few days. Here’s RAYS’ car on the new Volk Racing NE24s.

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The RZ34 demo car from Fujitsubo was on BBS RI-Ds, which suit the car’s design rather well. I think the Z will look best with bigger wheels – 20s or 21s even – as the fenders just seem to swallow them up.

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I’d love to hear what wheels you think best suit the RZ34. My opinion – after seeing a bunch of them online and out on the street – is that the dish game is very poor right now. Hopefully TAS will fix this in a few weeks.

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Along with seeing tuning parts from powerhouses like HKS and Trust/GReddy, it’s always good to be reminded where everything spans from. Here’s a beautiful example of a resto-modded S30 courtesy of Star Road.

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But enough about Zs – we need to balance things with some GT-Rs!

Mine’s had the same set up they used at the R’s Meeting, but I never tire of looking at their cars.

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The Nismo Festival really shows how much love there is for Nissan and its history. The fans are loyal and always come up with interesting ways to support their favorite drivers and teams, but this GT-winged hard hat is on another level. Kudos to its creator!

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Add a Silvia 270R to this picture and you have the Nismo holy trinity. I wonder if anyone out there already owns it?

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Am I the only one who’s patiently waiting for Smoky Nagata to come up with something worthy of his long history building crazy machines? I feel as though the Top Secret brand is today simply relying on its name value to sell pre-built complete cars to foreigners at the Tokyo Auto Salon. Where are the crazy engine-swapped Wangan racers that I used to shoot 10 to 15 years ago? I really hope to see something cool at Makuhari Messe next month.

The Closing

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As I touched on earlier, if there is something that Nismo Festival does well it’s providing entertainment.

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There isn’t much time throughout the event that there aren’t cars out on track making noise, or in the case of this particular picture, Super GT drivers doing massive burnouts as they exit pit lane.

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The GT race though, is my favorite part of the day.

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It was so dramatic seeing all these GT cars line up on the Fuji Speedway starting grid…

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…Right behind the new RZ34 Super GT safety car.

I even got to say a little ciao to fellow Italian Ronnie Quintarelli. He didn’t end up having the best 2022 season, struggling to make the most of the all-new Motul Z and finishing in 7th position overall alongside his teammate Tsugio Matsuda.

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From GT-Rs and Zs to old screaming race cars and everything in between, as always the Nismo Festival continues to be a must-attend event on the JDM calendar.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this year’s coverage.

Dino Dalle Carbonare
Instagram: dino_dalle_carbonare
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