2016 Review: NISMO

A year that started off in historic fashion, with a chance to make instant history, resulted in NISMO falling just short of a third consecutive GT500 championship in the very last instance. But they still went on to capture several historic milestones along the way.

#1 Motul Autech Nissan GT-R

Drivers: Tsugio Matsuda / Ronnie Quintarelli
GT500 Drivers’ Championship: 3rd Place (62 points)
GT500 Teams’ Championship: 3rd Place (83 points)
Wins: 2 (Okayama, Fuji 500km)
Podiums: 2 (Okayama, Fuji 500km)
Best Qualifying: 3rd (Okayama, Fuji 300km)

NISMO ended 2015 by taking their eighth GT500 championship, going back-to-back after winning in 2014, and it was a historic championship for Ronnie Quintarelli, who became the first four-time GT500 champion in history. What could they do for an encore in 2016?

With an unprecedented third consecutive championship on the line, NISMO changed nothing from 2016. Matsuda and RQ were still the drivers, Michelin maintained their semi-exclusive partnership with NISMO, and team director Yutaka Suzuki, and chief engineer Takeshi Nakajima, were well equipped to go for it in 2016.

And the year could not have started any better. They captured victory in the opening race of the season at Okayama International Circuit, then just a few weeks later at the Golden Week classic, the Fuji 500km, they were locked in a heated battle for the lead. Quintarelli did all he could to fend off the Calsonic GT-R of J.P. Oliveira, but it didn’t look like it would be enough to win it – until four laps to go, when the left rear tyre of the Calsonic car exploded, giving Quintarelli an uncontested run to the chequered flag.

NISMO had become the first team to win the first two races of a GT500 season since they did it themselves in 2008. Every team in both classes that went on to win the first two rounds, had all gone on to take the title the same year. They sparked what would become a record four wins in a row for the Nissan GT-R to open the 2016 season.

Matsuda had now become the all-time GT500 wins leader with his seventeenth and eighteenth career victories respectively, and by reaching career win number 12, Quintarelli tied the all-time record for wins by a foreign driver.

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© Nissan

The “red car” would go through the next six races as the heaviest car in the field with success ballast, but it didn’t seem to affect them that much, scoring points in all three races of the Summer Series – ninth at Sugo, an incredible fourth at Fuji in the 300k, and in the Suzuka 1000km, with the maximum 100 kilograms of ballast on board, they were running up in fourth place…

…until Matsuda ran out of fuel on the final lap, which still only dropped them to sixth place. Still, everything looked good for the championship hat trick in the final races.

But NISMO shockingly folded over the final three races, starting with a late crash at Buriram that counted as their sole DNF of the season. At a cold weekend at Twin Ring Motegi, their Michelin tyres which had been the consensus #1 option in dry race conditions couldn’t work like they had all season.

A massive upgrade from their rivals at Lexus didn’t help, sure, but the fact remains: They conceded the lead in the championship with a ninth place in the first race, then sealed their third-place result in the championship by finishing seventh in the finale.

SUPER GT 2016 Round 2_03-source.jpg
© Nissan

Even though they didn’t secure their third straight championship together, Matsuda and Quintarelli have to be considered as the greatest driver pairing in Super GT history – with both drivers setting records, and Quintarelli in particular going above and beyond to become one of the true faces of the series through his charitable work for Italy and Japan.

These are still two of the fastest drivers in the series – Matsuda, smooth and confident, and Quintarelli, bold and relenteless.

And make no mistake, NISMO will be back in 2017 to take back the title. NISMO President and CEO Takao Katagiri said so at the NISMO Festival of Speed in December. They are the long-standing standard of excellence by which all other teams are measured – their vincibility only makes what Lexus did to overhaul them at the end even more special.

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