How Nissan is looking to recapture the magic of the Z in motorsport

By J.A. Ackley
Aug 11, 2023 | Nissan, Z-car, Nissan Z | Posted in Features | Never miss an article

Photo courtesy Brian Cleary/TechSport Racing

New Nissan Z. New Nissan Z NISMO. New Nissan Z GT4. In case you couldn’t tell, the Z is important to Nissan, and much of the manufacturer’s effort to push the Z to the forefront centers around the GT4 program.

The Z-car is the sports car DNA of Nissan,” says Yuzo Ishikawa, corporate vice president for NISMO. “That’s why we released the new Z-car. That’s why we developed the GT4 car. For the grassroots motorsports [driver] and the gentleman driver who drives on the weekend, we want to sell to them. We had a GT-R, but that’s for GT3. We didn’t have a grassroots car.”

Nissan and NISMO teamed up with TechSport Racing to develop the Nissan Z GT4 in the Pirelli GT4 America Series.

We have the history with the 370Z,” says Deborah Popolizio, co-owner of TechSport Racing.We also have the history in developing the homologation for a number of other cars.”

In Japan, Nissan faced primarily other Japanese automakers. In the U.S., the competition comes from around the world. Aston Martin. BMW. Mercedes-Benz. Porsche. Toyota.

We need the competition,” says Kazuya Magoori, senior manager for Nissan in Japan, “to enhance the Nissan brand and Z-car brand.”

The Current Challenge

“The car was developed in Japan over a handful of races,” TechSport Racing team principal Kevin Anderson says. “The Z GT4 car was developed in parallel for both Japan and the U.S. racing series. However, the car was not fully developed for U.S. tracks.”

U.S. tracks tend to have bumpier surfaces, bigger curbs and often greater elevation changes than Japanese circuits.

To adapt the car to those conditions, Nissan and NISMO brought engineers from both sides of the Pacific Ocean to U.S. GT4 races. The Japanese contingent includes Koichi Ogawara, NISMO’s Chief Track Engineer who had worked as an engineer for the Super Aguri F1 team.

Photo by J.A. Ackley

“Right now we’re a little bit off, but the bones are there,” says Kevin. “It’s just a matter of getting it dialed in.”

Like all GT4 cars, the Z version is based on the street version.

“But it takes very little effort to make [the Z car] competent on the track,” says Kevin.

While the production car weighs about 3500 pounds, the race car is 3100 pounds. Both versions use a double-wishbone front suspension and a multi-link rear suspension. However, the race car’s suspension is adjustable and uses Öhlins two-way dampers.

Photo by J.A. Ackley

The street car and GT4 car use the same 3.0-liter, twin-turbo V6. The production version puts out 400 horsepower, 350 lb.-ft. of torque; the race car, with a different engine tune, delivers 450 horsepower and 443 lb.-ft. of torque.

Photo by J.A. Ackley

Other differences include Brembo brakes, an air-cooled intercooler instead of a water-cooled one to save weight, and a six-speed sequential transmission.

What’s It Like to Drive Right Now?

Four drivers–Colin Harrison, Eric Powell, Bryan Heitkotter and Tyler Stone–have been wheeling the GT4 car to make it better.

Photo by J.A. Ackley

“It rotates really good,” says Colin. “You can get some oversteer. It’s fun with the oversteer, too. I like the balance of it. It inspires a lot of confidence in me. It works really good with my driving style–aggressive, loose.”

“The car’s quite thrilling to drive,” Eric says. “It’s got a lot of power, it makes a beautiful noise and it looks really good–it’s a very sexy car.”

“I’ve been a longtime Z racer,” says Bryan. “The big thing for me is the twin-turbo engine. It’s got a lot more torque for the corner exits. It gets pretty good runs down the straights.”

“I like the power of the car,” Tyler adds. “Those twin turbos, when they kick in, it pulls hard down the straight. It’s very manageable when you’re modulating the throttle through the turns.”

What’s Next?

The team sees 2023 as a development year, as Nissan plans for customer sales next year.

Nissan feels the process of honing the race car will make its street cars better, too.

Photo courtesy Brian Cleary/TechSport Racing

“Production car technology is coming from race car,” says Kazuya, who serves as a bridge between the production and motorsport teams at Nissan. “Racing car [technology] is coming from production car. So, we should have a more competitive, more reliable car to sell [both in racing and on the street].”

Ultimately, Nissan has placed a lot on its Z, not just in GT4 but also for the street and performance markets.

“You can see the history in the race car,” says Greg Nelson, Nissan Motorsports Program Manager. “You can see the history in the street car. It’s a great tribute to a very successful car in Nissan’s history. It means a great deal that we’re back in motorsports in North America, and we’re actively supporting it. It’s a big, comprehensive plan to launch this the right way to make it successful in the long term.”

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300zxfreak Reader
8/11/23 3:12 p.m.

As a long time Z fan and owner, I'm interested to see how this plays out. I find it also interesting that I have yet to see the latest Z out on the road, anywhere. None, zero, zip, nada......hmmmmm.

Datsun310Guy MegaDork
8/11/23 3:13 p.m.

Nissan is selling Z's still?

QuikMcshifterson New Reader
8/11/23 4:33 p.m.

In reply to Datsun310Guy :

Beat me, I've seen maybe 2 of them on the road. Is the production volume just that low?

J.A. Ackley
J.A. Ackley Senior Editor
8/11/23 5:22 p.m.

So, how many units of the Z has Nissan sold?

Here's the answer, per their reports:

Q2 2023: 500
Q1 2023: 466
Q4 2022: 177
Q3 2022: 86
Total Reported: 1229

To put things in comparison, the number of units sold during that time frame for other Nissan vehicles:
Altima: 124,586
GT-R: 220

Datsun310Guy MegaDork
8/11/23 5:43 p.m.

In the past year it averaged 100/month or 2 per US state? Mr. Z book tells of the Z - compare the volume.  

I understand we don't have enough chips, so that might hold up production but what a difference.  

spedracer New Reader
8/11/23 8:24 p.m.

Maybe I'm just not hip to the latest and greatest, but I've never seen calipers that look like that (looking at the pic in the article). Does it have calipers that look like that stock? Some odd configuration to make stock spindles work with upgraded brakes?


Either way, happy to see more interest in racing. I gotta say though, there's a lot of inertia the wrong way with the Nissan brand IMO. Went to one of their dealerships a while back and left almost immediately. Every car just exuded "rental car" vibes, and the overall brand image seems poor for even non-car-people. On the road I treat any Nissan as a threat, and am correct way too often.

J.A. Ackley
J.A. Ackley Senior Editor
8/12/23 7:35 a.m.

In reply to spedracer :

Good question about the calipers. You won't find those on the production Performance model.

Performance model gets Akebono four-piston calipers on the front, two-piston ones on the rear.

GT4 gets Brembo six-piston calipers on the front, four-piston ones on the rear.

As far as rotors.

Performance: 14-inch up front, 13.8-inch in rear.
GT4: 15.4-inch up front, 13.6-inch in rear.

racerfink UberDork
8/12/23 11:34 a.m.

Looks like that caliper is designed to limit flex, and to cool as efficiently as possible.

Erikl New Reader
8/12/23 4:24 p.m.

Interesting, what tires do they run in GT4?  Good to know the new Z motor can live on track with out dry-sump oil system.  Suprising, or is that all GT4.

racerfink UberDork
8/12/23 5:55 p.m.

In reply to Erikl :

Depends on the sanctioning body.  IMSA runs Michelin, SRO runs Pirelli, 24H runs Hankook.


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