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Photography by Andrew Didorosi

They say that sincerity is the new irony. So let’s be sincere. Prior to two weeks ago, I had never driven a car with the raw horsepower of the Switzer Performance P800 Nissan GT-R. We’re talking about seven hundred and seven ponies at all four wheels, on 93-octane gasoline, dyno-proven and road-tested. It’s terribly fashionable in this business to pretend that we’ve seen it all before, but you deserve to know the truth. Prior to driving this car, the most powerful car I’d driven was the six-hundred-horsepower 2008 Dodge Viper. On a weekly basis, I rarely drive anything faster than my poky little Audi S5 or Porsche 993. My Neon race car puts about one hundred and forty horsepower to the front wheels, although that’s enough to put you in the wall at a pretty high speed. Ask me how I know.

So while it would be very hip and print-journo of me to act like I get up every morning and drive random mega-horsepower cars, the truth of the matter is that it ain’t so. For that reason, I was very, very excited to drive the Switzer P800, particularly as it would be on a road course which I know reasonably well. This wasn’t the typical “press junket” kind of trip. I drove four hundred and fifty miles at my own expense, skipped work, and endured some really lousy weather to make it happen.

I wasn’t the only person busting tail to make sure our readers had a chance to experience the car. A notorious pro racer/road-rally bon vivant rented the track for the entire day and consented to let us share his playdate on the condition that we would maintain strict confidence about his secret new project. Tym Switzer, owner of the tuning shop which bears his name, arranged for the GT-R’s arrival and agreed that we, the Press As A Whole, would print the truth about the car’s performance, no matter what. Jo Borras, Switzer’s newly arrived PR mensch, coordinated the entire effort from the leather captain’s chair of his refrigerator-white VW Routan “press office”. The crew from Jalopnik agreed to share photographs with me in exchange for my services as camera-car operator and winter-weather stunt driver. Last but not least, the GT-R’s owner, J.R., agreed in the most nonchalant way possible to let me drive his pride and joy at one hundred and thirty miles per hour. In the snow.

You get the idea. A lot of people put in a lot of effort. It wasn’t a case of General Motors putting us up in the Hard Rock Hotel, comping all the drinks, and then expressing a general corporate indifference to the tone of our review. Tym, Jo, J.R., and everybody else are real people, and it’s very difficult to put that out of my head as I write about this car. The easiest, and most profitable, thing to do would be to puff-piece it out of courtesy to everyone involved. It wouldn’t really hurt anyone, and it would ensure that nobody felt mistreated or misused. This, right here, is the temptation of automotive journalism. Forget that business about free drinks, travel, and hotel rooms. That stuff comes no matter what you write about the cars. The real pressure is the pressure you feel when good, hard-working people are standing in front of you with the product of that hard work. It’s one thing to damn faceless, anonymous GM to bankruptcy in print; it’s another thing to cost Tym Switzer a potential customer by revealing the shortcomings of his products.

The good news is that I don’t have to. The P800 does what it says on the tin. It’s unbelievably fast — 600cc sportbike fast. It really does run on pump gas. It didn’t break once during the course of the day’s testing. When I turned the key, it started. It never behaved like a “tuner car”. My old Mopar “Stage” Neon SRT-4 acted more like a tuner car than this GT-R did, and that was a factory-developed package. With the P800, there’s no ski-slope power curve, no pop-and-hiss, no dead spots in the delivery, no clutch-and-jerk from the transmission, nothing. From idle to redline, the God-damned thing just acts like a factory car that happens to have two Corvette’s worth of twist under the hood. It’s a totally predictable, totally usable package.

And that’s a good thing, because my drive of the P800 occurred under conditions that could only be considered “dismal”. We’re talking twenty-seven degrees ambient temperature, with heavy sleet that destroyed visibility and coated the track surface with a slushy, snowball-capable mixture at unpredictable intervals. A few recon/photography laps, performed in my infamous Lime Green S5, didn’t inspire a ton of confidence — and the S5 is one of the most solid wet-weather performance cars you can buy. As the snow came down and the track started to disappear under a dirty-white blanket, I began to feel a little less than sanguine about operating the GT-R under “winter mix” conditions. Concerns that I’d crumple the car with its disturbingly suave owner sitting right next to me, and concerns that I wouldn’t be able to explore the Nissan’s limits in a manner to do justice to our readers’ expectations, assumed pink-elephant proportions in my mind.

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I needn’t have worried. Even in “R-mode”, even with eight hundred horsepower at the crank (or thereabouts), the GT-R is hilariously simple to drive. In fact, it’s so easy to pedal that it took a ride-along with a pro racer in another, similarly-tuned GT-R to convince me that I wasn’t seriously underdriving the car somehow. If anything, watching someone else showboat around a little reinforced my conviction. Here’s an example of something you can get away with in a 700-plus-horsepower GT-R: Take a corner combination, such as that found between Turns 2 and 6 at BeaveRun. Early-apex the entry to the first corner and grind out to the exit under part-throttle. After all, the car’s so strong and the diff is so clever that it isn’t really all that necessary to unwind perfectly at the clipping point. With just a bit of steering still in the car, hit the exit. Oops! You’re gonna run off the road, pal. Nothing you can do about it. You’re going too fast, you’ve used more than the proverbial dollar’s worth of traction in your front tires, and you aren’t pointed towards the racetrack.

Under normal circumstances, there’d be nothing to do but unwind the wheel, make sure your thumbs aren’t in a position to be broken when you hit the dirt, and start checking your rear-view mirror for re-entry onto the track. But these aren’t normal circumstances. We’re in a Switzer P800 GT-R, so this is what you do: Crank the wheel more and mash your foot to the carpet. The magic diff will figure out that you need to turn, and somehow the massive, lagless power is routed to the rear wheels, which promptly spin and let the car rotate. Meanwhile, something’s happening up front. Power’s being shifted left and right until the nose pulls the car straight in the direction of your steering input. The rear wheels stop spinning, the all-wheel-drive maxes out the grip and the collective intelligence of the drivetrain rockets you out towards the next clipping point. At some point in the exit, you’ll want to pull the right-side paddle and experience that big shove one more time before it’s time to hit the brakes again.

Although the weather gets steadily worse during our session, the Barry-Bonds-esque Nissan never gets out of hand. Instead, it simply delivers whatever you ask for. Want a big, showy drift? Crank the wheel and floor the throttle. When you’re done showing off, just straighten out the wheel. Doesn’t matter what the speed is, doesn’t matter how sloppily you let it happen. A Viper would punish you with a terrifying oscillation in those conditions, and a Cayman sans PCM would rotate you backwards off the track, but the GT-R just snaps right back into a perfectly straight-ahead path. Down the hill which leads to BeaveRun’s back stretch, we run over visibly different levels of snow, slush, and water. Who cares? Keep the throttle pinned. The GT-R will unfailingly select the wheel with the most traction, but it won’t let the power transition unsettle the car or affect the steering.

Secure in the passenger seat, J.R. is happy to let me circulate the track all day in conditions which are more and more approximating the truncated half of the Malaysian Grand Prix, but I have the realization that I’m starting to make some really stupid moves just to try to perturb the P800’s placid countenance. Which means it’s time to bring the car in and hang up the helmet for the day.

As I’m stepping out of the deep-red Japanese catfish, the strangest thought comes to my mind: With anything less than 800 horsepower, this car would be really boring. In fact, it isn’t terribly exciting with 800 horsepower. I’m not talking about the objective performance: in the right hands, under the right conditions, the P800 has the potential to run sub-one-minute laps at BeaveRun. That’s formula-car pace, and that’s exciting. On the front straight, under winter conditions, the P800 can knock on 130 miles per hour. That’s staggering. Here’s another way to look at it: You could enter the Switzer P800 into a NASA American Iron Xtreme race, on street tires, and not only would you win, you might lap the field during a 40-minute race. While the AIX guys were struggling to keep their big-power Mustangs in a straight line, smoking sideways at every exit, threshold-braking at the ragged edge, and fighting the outrageous, wriggly-fish lack of straight-line stability that comes standard with a competition-aligned ponycar, you’d have the A/C on and the radio turned up. It wouldn’t feel like much work at all…

…and that’s the problem. Driving an American Iron or American Iron Xtreme race car is hard work. We’d call it “man’s work” but I believe there are a few ladies driving in the class, and I wouldn’t want to offend them to the point that they gently nudge my little Neon off-track at the next race. The great AI drivers are engaged in a constant, high-speed wrestling match with their recalcitrant steeds. It’s some of the greatest sedan racing out there. But the GT-R would let even a newbie Skip Barber graduate roll out and whip the collective asses of the very best AI drivers. You don’t need slow hands, a cool head, or a fiery heart. Just point the car and let it do the work.

Let’s watch a video. You’re probably already seen it; if you have, just remember it. This is the old RUF “Yellowbird” running around the Nurburgring. If it’s new to you… As Katt Williams says, “Go ahead. I’ll wait.”

The video that started it all; Yellowbird at the ‘Ring.

Okay. The driver’s showboating a bit, but make no mistake: that Ruf is no easy steer. It’s a full-frontal challenge to your skill as a driver. The more skill and courage you bring, the better you’ll do. Hacks, backmarkers, and cowards need not apply. When people talk about the “mystique of the ‘Ring”, this is what they have in mind. The Yellowbird wasn’t just hard to drive in the corners; it was friggin’ tough to drive in a straight line. It’s a constant struggle to keep up with the swinging pendulum of a rear-engined car, with the penalty for making a mistake measured in units of transfused blood or casket length. If there’s an ounce of metaphorical motor oil running through your veins, the Yellowbird video should cause you to vibrate with excitement.

Now consider this: I have seventeen laps of the Nurburgring to my credit, lifetime. But I’m one hundred percent sure that, given a Switzer P800 and a morning’s worth of practice, I could utterly smoke the Yellowbird, no matter who is driving. It wouldn’t be close. And there’d be little to no drama. I’d do it the way I drove the car at BeaveRun: big throttle, big brake, let the diff sort the car through the corners. And it isn’t just me. Pretty much everybody who lines up on the Performance Touring grid with me could do it. Some of the NASA Time Trial guys could do it. Hell, some of the NASA HPDE guys could do it. The GT-R doesn’t wobble in a straight line, doesn’t slide without warning in the midcorner, doesn’t oscillate every time you sniff a curb. It’s the easiest fast car in the history of fast cars.

This is not to say that I accept Nissan’s marketroid Nordschleife times as fact. If anything, the deceptive ease with which Switzer has wrung an additional three hundred-plus ponies from the GT-R makes me more convinced than ever that the average Godzilla buyer isn’t really getting a 7:26 ‘Ringmeister. Still, let’s give credit where it’s due. There’s never been a production car before which wouldn’t feel like an utter maniacal beast with eight hundred horsepower. With the GT-R, it just means the view out the windshield is set to fast-forward. It’ll cost you under twenty thousand bucks to make yours this fast, and then you’ll fear no club racer at your local trackday, no matter how much of a shuffle-steering, non-Nomex-Puma-wearing jerkoff you are.

My afternoon with the P800 just about snuffed out the enduring flame of my automotive enthusiasm. What’s the point of working, striving, practicing, and suffering to be the best driver you can be if technology can swallow up your talent? Why bother to set the best lap time you can when anybody with a hundred grand can eclipse it as easily as you’d shove a child out the way in the line at McDonald’s? The video footage of my GT-R drive made me look like a superstar — but that car makes anybody look like a superstar. Who cares. So what. The kawaii-obsessed nerds of the GT-R forums are right. The numbers are all that matter, and the numbers are solidly on the side of inhuman competence. It’s Judgment Day and the machines are winning the war. I leave the track and my mood is as dismal as the weather.

Screw it. Still raining. Hold the dashboard button down on the Audi. ASR off. ESP off. Slick concrete on-ramp. Second gear. Six thousand revs. Feed the power and the S5 rotates the scenery before me… this much… this much… this much. And no further, because my fingertips might as well be brushing the road. We have control. Which is to say, I have control. It would be better in my Boxster, better still in my 993, but we’ll take what we can get. Shift up. No paddles. Save my soul. Let me drive. Time for the exit. Unwind with a precision that feels like a knob turning to a perfectly firm click. Feed the power. Not the car. It was me. The GT-R would have been faster, but the GT-R is not me and I am not a GT-R. Breathe out, relax. And drive. Just drive.

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Jack Baruth

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