FEW race cars have made a more menacing first impression than Nissan’s GT-R.
The four-wheel drive, twin-turbo monster dubbed ‘Godzilla’ by Australia’s motoring press was unleashed mid-way through the 1990 Australian Touring Car Championship at the Mallala round.
The GT-R’s debut was initially scheduled to happen earlier in the season, but the process of making the new machine fit for Australian racing took a little longer than Gibson Motorsport had envisaged.
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In honour of Mallala’s 60th birthday celebrations, Mark Skaife recalled his maiden outing in the car that became so dominant that it caused the category’s rules to be rewritten twice; first to hobble it, then to ban it altogether.
“It was a game changer,” Mark Skaife recalls.
“We’d driven it at Winton for the first lot of testing to begin with, but it arrived as effectively a NISMO Nissan Japan racing spec car and lots of things on it were not very durable … and that’s a nice way of saying it.
“From a speed perspective, from one lap it wasn’t out of control, it wasn’t that great in those days – but what was great about it was, being four-wheel drive, it looked after its tyres so well and drive traction was extraordinary.
“The car was almost perfectly fit for purpose at Mallala in terms of coming out of slow corners and putting its power down.”
Concerns over the new car’s reliability meant teammate Jim Richards, then in the thick of the title battle, remained in the old Skyline HR-31 while Skaife took the reins of Godzilla for its debut outing.
“I remember we had a really serious mechanical problem before the end of qualifying,” Skaife recalls.
“Fred Gibson said to me: ‘Mate don’t try that hard, we had a brake failure.’
“We basically put new rotors, callipers and pads on the front of the car and I got one lap at the end of the session with the brakes not bedded in.
“I qualified on the second row of the grid and Fred was happy because it was about as good as you could do.”
The GT-R’s traction advantage became apparent the moment the lights turned green at the start of the race.
“When I hit it with four-wheel drive, it went ‘ppfffeew’ and I thought ‘wow, this thing’s going to be pretty handy in terms of being to come off the slow corners compared to the Sierra!’” Skaife says.
However, Skaife slipped to fourth on the opening tour after finding the fast-starting GT-R’s path blocked by front-row starters Peter Brock and Tony Longhurst, but he soon rocketed his way past Johnson and Longhurst and set after race leader Brock.
The veteran used every trick in the book to hang onto the lead for several laps, but a momentary lapse out of the first hairpin gave Skaife enough room to use the GT-R’s horsepower to ease ahead.
Godzilla’s time at the front proved brief – Skaife slithered into retirement 12 laps later when a hub failed – but the point about its potential had been made.
Richards sealed the 1990 title aboard the now-reliable GT-R at the Oran Park finale, while Skaife drove Godzilla to round wins at Mallala in both 1991 and 1992, the latter on the way to his maiden ATCC crown.
And then Godzilla was consigned to history.
“I remember saying to Roger Penske; if you think the parity debates and dramas is part of the modern deal, it’s nothing like it was!” Skaife recalls.
“They effectively banned a car and changed the whole regulations at the end of 1992.”