NISMO as a brand in the US has been on the sidelines for nearly two decades. NISsan MOtorsports, once a great force in racing, is today almost unknown outside of die-hard Nissan enthusiasts. Thankfully, it would appear that’s all about to change. The company sounds serious about changing the way the world looks at NISMO. The goal is simple; as AMG is to Mercedes and M is to BMW, NISMO will be known as the performance pedigree of the Nissan brand.
To kick off the NISMO movement, Nissan is enlisting its most loyal and enthusiastic customers to spread the word. GT-R and Z owners around the US have been finding invitations land in their inbox to something called the “NISMO Performance Academy.” As NISMO describes it:
“The Nismo Performance Academy is an exclusive track driving event featuring the most impressive Nissan performance vehicles like the GT-R®, 370Z® NISMO® and the all-new JUKE® NISMO®. Under the guidance of professional instructors you’ll experience first hand what it feels like to corner at the apex, threshold brake and achieve speeds you never thought possible.”
These elusive invites are rare. To get on the list, Nissan enthusiasts must indicate interest. More on that later. Even then, getting an invite is only part of the process of actually getting a spot in the Academy. For each of the three locations on the schedule this year approximately 2,000 invitations were sent. Out of those, each location only has 240 openings over the course of three days. As you might imagine, once the door is open, spots fill up in hours. Earlier this year in June the Academy started off at the Circuit of the Americas. The third and final event will take place at Homestead in Florida on September 3oth through October 2nd. We had a chance to attend the Academy’s second event at Lime Rock Park in Connecticut on September 5th, 2013.
The Academy is free to those who are lucky enough to have a golden ticket. Our day started bright and early; sign in was at 8:30 am. The program was divided into four exercises. Since the entire group was also divided into four, each group rotated through each exercise. With each exercise wrapping up on the hour, like a well-oiled machine, groups of excited Nissan loyalists swapped locations over the Lime Rock infield.
The wet skidpad
Our first task was to tame the wet skidpad in a 370Z NISMO. Driving with instructors in the passenger seat, we learned how to transition rear end grip and keep control when our vehicle began to oversteer. The general idea sounded easy; kick the rear end out and keep it swinging around the skidpad without letting it get out of control. In reality, it was quite a bit harder than it looked. Spectators waiting a turn for their try were often treated to a show; watching other drivers try but fail to keep a perfect slide. More than a few ended up backwards or in the grass. Failure was encouraged in our quest to become better drivers.
On track lead and follow
The cornerstone of the Academy is the on track lead and follow. Not only are participating enthusiasts allowed to drive their own Z or GT-R on the track, they also are given a chance push a factory 370Z NISMO and GT-R even further. In the morning, on track training is the first step to the full-speed laps you’ll take in the afternoon. Instructors are ready to let participants explore the limits of their skill and drivers are given on point instruction on how to improve in real-time.
Auto-X in the Juke NISMO
Since there is no suitable area for a true auto-x at Lime Rock, our Juke NISMO experience was situated on a very short road course. This was an advantage, as we were able to drive at a pace that was was quicker than a parking lot gymkhana. The idea for this exercise was simple; make it around the course as fast as you can. Our morning session with the Juke NISMO was all about learning the course and how to push the Juke as quickly as we could. Most of the NISMO Driving Academy was not competitive in nature, except for this challenge. In the afternoon, we raced for the quickest time and bragging rights.
Is it worth your time?
Hell yes it’s worth your time!
Even if you had the money to spare, it would be impossible to recreate the NISMO Performance Academy. The combination of a fast legendary racetrack, trained instructors, and fully provided vehicles is enough to make any car enthusiast, NISMO or not, squeal with excitement. Engaging loyal customers through an exciting experience is tenant of a successful marketing movement. Participants are sure to tell everyone about the day Nissan rented a racetrack, made them a better driver, and let them drive faster than they ever could on the street.
If you are lucky enough to get an invitation don’t wait to sign up, or you just might miss out on the experience of a lifetime. Unfortunately, next year’s NISMO Performance Academy dates are not scheduled or even assured yet. Lets hope Nissan executives give the go-ahead soon.