Great racing cars: 1988 Nissan GTP ZX-Turbo



A series taken from the 164-page Motor Sport special Great Racing Carswhich is available to buy here

From the editor Damien Smith

How would you define a ‘great’ racing car? Race wins and championship titles are an obvious place to start – and admittedly, when we began the process of rounding up the ‘voices’ to fill this special magazine, published by the team behind Motor Sport, we had in mind the likes of the Lotus 72, Ferrari F2004, Porsche 917, Audi R10 and so on.

But as the interviews of familiar racing figures began, we realised greatness is often a very personal thing. Naturally, most – but not all – would pick cars they had experienced first-hand, as a driver, designer, engineer or team boss. And on occasion the cars that stood out in their minds as ‘great’ weren’t necessarily so in the grand scheme of history. That’s why you’ll find a Minardi here among Formula 1 cars from Lotus, Williams and McLaren.

Unexpected? Certainly. Wrong? Not to the man who chose it.

As the interviews accumulated, our magazine took on a life of its own, full of personal anecdotes about the myriad cars that made careers. Some of those we spoke to, such as Mario Andretti and Dan Gurney, couldn’t be tied to a single choice from multi-faceted lives at the wheel. Such heroes have earned the right to choose an F1, sports and Indycar, so we allowed them more than one bite.

Others refused to be confined by category. Hence the short ‘Odd ’n Sods’ chapter on cars that, by and large, are mere footnotes in lower divisions of racing lore.

Thus there is nothing definitive about the selection listed herein. Then again, there’s no claim that this compilation offers the ‘Greatest Racing Cars’ of history. It’s much more personal than that, much more quirky – and all the better for it.

1988 Nissan GTP ZX-Turbo

Geoff Brabham
Le Mans winner and oldest son of Jack

We scored eight victories in a row with this car and the first of four straight IMSA championships. We won close to 20 races over the two years we used it. I saw it on display at Sebring this year and it’s one of those timeless cars that doesn’t look out of place today, more than 25 years later, and there’s not many cars you can say that about.

It was very interesting to be part of the development of that car with Nissan and Electramotive. When I first drove for them, the car was basically a Lola and it wasn’t particularly good. But then Trevor Harris designed a whole new chassis for them with a completely different aero package and the first time I drove that car it felt better just driving out of the pitlane. We also switched to Goodyear tyres and those things turned that car into an absolute race winner.

We had a great rivalry with Jaguar in ’88. It was really intense. They had come over from Europe and obviously felt their car was much better than the Porsche 962, which it was. The Nissan had been fast but extremely unreliable and I think TWR and Jaguar thought they were going to do very well in IMSA. They won Daytona and I always remember one of their drivers saying once they got to the street circuits they were really going to kick ass because all the turbocars were really going to struggle on those tracks.

As it turned out, our car was absolutely awesome on street tracks and we beat them pretty easily. That started a rivalry and we went on to win eight races in a row. But some of them were really hard fought, where we had to come from behind. It wasn’t like we totally dominated. It was a hard slog at times but that made it more rewarding.

When I first drove for Nissan there weren’t any restrictions on the turbo and we had more than 1000 horsepower. We used to race with less than that, somewhere around 900, but it was a little bit of a hand grenade. In ’88, IMSA put some restrictions on the size of turbo inlets because speeds were getting pretty high. That cut down the horsepower but funnily enough it increased the torque so we went faster. We still had more than 800bhp, but no one would say publicly how much we had.

That was a good era for sports car racing in America. The cars excited people. The fans loved watching them and they were pretty rewarding to drive.

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