The road to Nissan's first GT4 win with the Z in the U.S.

By Peter Nelson
Jun 20, 2024 | Nissan Z, Nismo Z GT4 | Posted in News and Notes | From the Aug. 2024 issue | Never miss an article

Photography by Peter Nelson

Nissan possesses a storied history in North American motorsports, particularly when it comes to its iconic Z. Its sleek 240Z claimed more than a couple of SCCA championships starting back in the ’70s, and who can forget Paul Newman’s iconic Planters Peanuts Trans Am car of the late ’80s? But over the past decade or so, the brand slowly faded away from North American pro racing grids, leaving race fans wondering when it’d be back.

Finally, it’s here: After debuting its latest race-ready creation in 2022, the Z Nismo GT4, Nissan has returned. And not just in the grid. Like other manufacturers, the brand itself is in the paddock, ready to help its customers with parts, man power and data.

The Rig Is Here

The revamped program made its debut earlier this season at SRO’s Sonoma event. Soon after, at Sebring, a Z stood atop the podium.

Nissan’s current focus is SRO America’s Pirelli GT4 America series, a direct descendent of SCCA’s Pirelli World Challenge, a series that saw its fair share of 370Zs a decade ago.

Dean Case, Nismo USA’s PR representative and a veteran of the indus-try, told us that the brand would be at the Sonoma season opener this April en masse with a semi rig full of parts, engineers–the whole nine yards. He wasn’t exaggerating: a Nismo-branded hauler sat between the media center and podium, ready to photobomb all weekend long. 

Sonoma was the hauler’s debut, too. The program has scaled up since the GT4 Z’s single-team debut last year. In fact, more than 100 members of Nissan’s employee motorsports team at the brand’s technical center at Farmington Hills, Michigan, helped stock the truck before the season.

“We acquired the hauler this year, and our entire motorsports team spent two days cleaning it, organizing it, stocking it, getting it ready, inspecting the rig itself to make sure it was safe to put on the road,” explains Greg Nelson, GT4 Motorsports Program Manager. “And that was all volunteer, after-work hours.” 

The first level carries the usual drawers and cabinets filled with smaller parts, everything from bolts to electronics. Then there’s a long table lined with engineers typing away on laptops. Upstairs is where larger parts live, such as bodywork, wheels, suspension components, engines, and even a fresh body in white. 

Well, at least there was a whole car up there. Earlier in the week, it crashed in some tricky track/weather conditions during practice. Thankfully, the driver was fine, and the team was able to write a check and prep a fresh car just in time for the first race of the season. 

“We literally had a whole car, and within a matter of hours it was sold,” Nelson told us. “Luckily, we had the resources and forethought to have everything that our teams need. We’re here to make sure that it’s a well-supported event no matter what.”

Research and Development-Based

Nissan’s race program works out of the brand’s research and development facilities in Michigan rather than its primary sales and marketing presence is in Tennessee. This allows for cross-communication with the teams who focus on road-going Zs, keeping the tech close to the tech, so to speak. 

Another advantage, as Nelson shares: “Because we’re a product development facility, we have a very big prototype parts warehouse in Michigan that we have access to from a storage perspective.” 

Employee engagement is also paramount, explains Mike Carcamo, program director of sports cars, Nismo cars and motorsports at Nissan Motor Corporation. “Greg is the support leader in the U.S. who makes a bridge between racing activities here in the U.S. and the engineers based out of Michigan. We’re also able to draw from the passion and excitement locally [in the U.S.] to help build up this program.” 

Since there’s not much that Nismo USA can do to quickly get parts from Japan in a pinch, having ample resources locally–in part number, storage and human form–helps with that necessary trackside prep. 

International and Local Support

But there is lots of worldwide communication. In addition to the SRO America program, Nissan also campaigns the Z in Japan’s Super Taikyu endurance series and in Super GT–the country’s premier sports car racing series. Nissan representatives were very proud of the fact that they can draw from these three unique series for research and development, and provide a more capable car–and extra degree of insight–to customers no matter where they’re located.

“It results in lots of late-night calls, but that’s just part of the deal,” Nelson says with a chuckle. But besides gathering data for international racing data sharing, a lot of personnel sporting Nissan jackets at Sonoma were dedicated to simply assisting teams.

“We want to be more than just a supplier, we want to work with teams to be successful. Not only do we have an incredible 50-foot trailer with a stock of parts and a full running car, but we also have a team of engineers onsite to help with data management and support. I think that’s quite unique in terms of the lengths we’re willing to go to make sure our teams are successful,” Carcamo shares.

Which especially helps when there are two new teams looking to take on SRO’s most populous multi-make series this year. “On the team side,” he continues, “our engineers are here to help them learn the car. Some of these guys have only had the car a month. On the internal side, they’re there to make sure everything is working the way we expect it to work.”

But it’s also a two-way street, as there are a lot of combined years of experience between those teams involved in the program: Black Dog, Flying Lizard and TechSport. “Each of the teams have great engineers themselves, so some of it is an exchange where we learn what their best practices are and how we can implement them ourselves internally,” Carcamo adds.

That work has paid dividends, and rather quickly. While Nissan finished with one car on the podium at that Sonoma weekend, during the series’ second stop–that being Sebring–a earned its first class win in the U.S. on Sunday.

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FPZguy New Reader
6/20/24 2:49 p.m.

I'm glad to see this support from Nissan.  To be honest I didn't expect it.  The performance of the Z was not very impressive compared to the Supra so I thought the Supra would be the car to win on the track.  It looks like I was very wrong.  The Supra will no longer be produced and Nissan is all in to make the Z a winner on track.

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