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GTRBlog Interviews Toshio Suzuki – Lord of the ‘Ring

March 3, 2009

Surrounding the small town of Nurburg Germany is a public road known to many a racing driver and motor enthusiast worldwide. There are many names for this road, the Green Hell, the ‘Ring, the North Loop or Nordschleife and yes, the collective name, the Nurburgring. It’s where you go when you’re an auto manufacturer with a sports car in development or a budding concept car you need to prove.

Nissan has been developing the GT-R at the Nurburgring before it even was a GT-R. Back then it was a Nissan Skyline V35 with a new drive train underneath. They kept at it, developing the car on the torturous 20 kilometre circuit all the way to production and the work paid off. The GT-R was to set some of the fastest times ever seen by a production car at the circuit. Today the GT-R’s best time stands at 7:29.03 set on the 17th of April 2008.

The man responsible for all the driving through such development and ultimately the mind blowing results is none other than Nissan Chief Test Driver, Toshio Suzuki.

Recently Nissan Motors Australia launched the GT-R to the Australian press at a track day at Eastern Creek raceway in Sydney. For the occasion they had imported Suzuki-san to really show what the GT-R can do when ultimate driving skills meet Nissan super car.

GTRBlog was invited down for the day and had the opportunity to sit down and really talk GT-Rs with Suzuki-san and ask some of the questions that we’d been saving up since GT-R launch as well as some new ones that have recently popped up with the launch of the Nissan GT-R SpecV.

Here’s our interview, please read it and send your comments below by clicking the read more link…

Biographical Background

  • Name: Toshio Suzuki (鈴木 利男)
  • Born: March 10, 1955 in Saitama Prefecture, Japan
  • Racing Career:
    Suzuki-san had a successful early racing career in Japan winning the All-Japan Kart Championships three times in 1975, 1976 and 1979. In 1992 he won the 24hrs of Daytona driving an Nissan R91CP for NISMO. He also finished second place driving a Lola in the 1992 Japanese Formula 3000 series.

    In 1993 he drove for Larrousse F1 team for two of the seasons Formula-1 rounds finishing 12th in Japan and 14th in Australia.

    Since then Suzuki-san was involved in JGTC racing (SuperGT), Japanese Formula 3000 racing and finally, after retiring from race driving, race team directing.

    Over the years Suzuki-san has been racing the Nissan GT-R in it’s many forms from the 1989 R32 GT-R all the way through to the 1999+ R34 GT-R.

  • Current Occupation: Chief Test Driver, Nissan Japan

The Meeting

It’s extremely hot today, we’ve arrived early before the other press and have spotted Suzuki-san having a break to recover from driving all morning in the 33 degree C temperatures.

I take the opportunity to informally meet with Suzuki-san and meet the team from Nissan Japan and Australia:

  • Kris (GTRBlog.com) – (Japanese) Hajimimashite, I am Kris from GTRBlog.com. Our website is devoted to the Nissan GT-R and news about the latest GT-R developments.
  • Suzuki-san – (Japanese) Hello, nice to meet you.

    (At this point the Nissan staff standing near Suzuki-san introduce themselves to us also. We do the traditional name-card exchange as politely as we can.)

  • Kris – It’s a great honour to finally meet you.
  • Suzuki-san – (Japanese) Thanks – you speak Japanese? Why?
  • Kris – (Japanese) Haha yeah only little bit though!
  • Suzuki-san – (laughing) Your girlfriend is Japanese right!?
  • Kris – (Japanese and now also laughing) Good guess! Nooo, my wife isn’t Japanese but she does speak Japanese – It helps! We travel to Japan quite a lot.

    (I switch to English because I’ve run out of my minimal Japanese)

  • Kris – I actually met one of your old friends, Shishikura-san, last time in Japan, he tells me you’re a pretty mean karter?

    (We had met Kazuo Shishikura-san recently at the Nissan Tochigi Factory where we had been given a tour of the GT-R assembly line and a few hot laps of the GT-R test track. This full story is due soon. Shishikura-san is a test driver for the Nissan Motor Japan Quality Assurance section of the Tochigi Plant assembly line. That is he test drives GT-Rs for a living…)

  • Suzuki-san – Yes! We used to kart together, he works as a test driver also.

We then run out of time to chat as the press briefing is about to start, we organise to meet up again later and attend the briefing.

The Nissan briefing is very interesting, we hear from Jeff Fisher from Nissan Motors Australia Corporate Communications, Dan Thompson CEO and Managing Director of Nissan Australia, and Philip Galway Product Manager for the GT-R in Australia. Philip lets us know about the latest 3.3 second 0-60mph time set by the Nissan GT-R.

After the briefing there are alternating laps of journalists on the track. Suzuki-san finally gets a break from the hot GT-Rs and is sitting down in the pits. We spot our new friend Ken, a very helpful Japanese chap from Nissan Australia, and coerce him into translating for us for a longer chat with Suzuki-san.

The Interview

  • Kris (GTRBlog.com) – So what is your favourite GT-R from the past 20 years? R32, R33, R34 and R35 GT-R?
  • Suzuki-san – I feel that the R35 GT-R is a really great car, but when you think back to what the R32 GT-R was able to do back in 1989 and that Nissan were able to even build that car back then. That really was an extraordinary car. That, I feel, is my favourite GT-R.
  • Kris – The R32! (nearby R32 owners overhear and laugh!)
  • Kris – You spend a lot of time in Germany, how do mentally prepare yourself to attack the Nurburgring? Do you have any rituals you do? Any good luck charms?
  • Suzuki-san – haha – I pray to God all the time!
  • Kris – So you have no fear when driving the Nurburgring? The videos we’ve seen show serious commitment to every corner?
  • Suzuki-san – Well really it is a challenging circuit to drive at maximum for the entire lap. Once I get in “the zone” where I can fully concentrate on driving the car 100% I don’t have any fear.
  • Kris – Is there any competition between yourself and other Nissan test drivers?
  • Suzuki-san – No not at all…. (pauses) Of course because I’m the best …. (laughs)
  • Kris – What’s your all time favourite circuit to drive?
  • Suzuki-san – Well, when I was still racing my favourite circuit was the Le Mans track in France. I tend to like almost every race circuit I come across though. Of course I have good and bad memories from every circuit.
  • Kris – What about this race track – Eastern Creek Raceway. Do you like it?
  • Suzuki-san – This track is a big test of the car’s power. The hot conditions here today do not help the GT-Rs engine.
  • Kris – Let’s talk about tires. Which do you prefer? The Bridgestone (RE070R) the Dunlop (SP Sport 600 DSST) or the new Dunlops (SP Sport 600 DSST new version)?
  • Suzuki-san – If your circuit driving, I think the new Dunlop tires offer the best performance. If you are on the street, the Bridgestone tires give you the best wet weather performance with the least road noise
  • Kris – So what is your personal daily driver?
  • Suzuki-san – I drive a GT-R of course
  • Kris – A SpecV?
  • Suzuki-san – Well I have a regular GT-R but I don’t actually drive it every day. I have a Mercedes for that.
  • Kris – I have heard that you now own the GT-R that drove the actual 7:38 lap time at Nurburgring? Is that true?
  • Suzuki-san – Ah, during development there was many test cars, I have one of those but I don’t think it’s the exact car that did the laptime. It is pretty much the same as the one that recorded that time. To be accurate, I am just borrowing that car from Nissan (laughs)
  • Kris(laughs) ok… What about the 2009 Nissan GT-R, do you think it’s going to go faster than the 2008 GT-R at the ‘ring?
  • Suzuki-san – Well it’s definitely faster for sure. It really is going to depend on the conditions when we go back in April. On a short circuit the difference is going to be small but on the Nurburgring I think the difference could be 4 – 5 seconds.
  • Kris – Did you happen to set a set a time in the Nismo ClubSport GT-R at Nurburgring?
  • Suzuki-san – I have driven the Nismo ClubSport Package, but we didn’t perform any time attack in that car.
  • Kris – Ok! And the question I’ve been dying to ask, the SpecV Nurburgring laptime. Can you officially tell us what time it set?
  • Suzuki-san(everyone laughs as this is obviously a hot topic) Please ask Mizuno-san.. (laughs some more) Ask Mizuno-san what time he will be satisfied with.
  • Kris – Right! So we’ve officially been told you’ll return to the Nurburgring in April this year. Will you be setting lap times in both the base GT-R and the SpecV?
  • Suzuki-san – Yes, both.
  • Kris – Great! Any predictions on the SpecV time?
  • Suzuki-san – Well the SpecV is lighter, has more power, better braking. It will set a faster time…
  • Kris – I hope to hear about it soon. Well thanks a lot for allowing us this interview today. Good luck in April!

The best part about meeting Suzuki-san was that he is nice and easy going. I admit I am quite a fan of his so it felt a lot like meeting a big celebrity for the first time. Although I think the success of the GT-R and the amount of press it gets does make Suzuki-san a celebrity in a way so perhaps I’m not far off.

Thanks to Suzuki-san, Kentaro Hara from NMA for translating, Jeff Fisher and the team at Nissan Motors Australia for making this happen.

Link: Official Nissan GT-R Website Australia

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