There's few turns of pavement in racing more infamous or revered than the Corkscrew at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. A tough blind crest under braking to a sharp left, then right -- and in the midst of this wild swerve the world literally drops from under you like a ride on Thunder Mountain at Disneyland. It's been the scene of crashes and triumphs, none bigger than the final lap of the 1996 CART Grand Prix when Alex Zanardi famously hurled his car down the inside of Bryan Herta, bouncing across the dirt at the Corkscrew to take the lead and win the race.
If there's a better place for me to wind out the 2013 Nissan GT-R and its 542 hp, I can't think of it at the moment.
Nissan produced the Skyline GT-R between 1969 and 1974, and again in 1989 to 2002. The car quickly earned the "Godzilla" nickname and made Nissan's reputation for performance and became a regular in the motorsports scene around the world. In late 2007, Nissan dropped the Skyline badge and unveiled the new all-wheel-drive GT-R, partly developed at the Laguna Seca racetrack. Since then the model has been tweaked and evolved over the years -- and the 2013 model is no exception.
Aesthetically there are few changes to the exterior or the interior over the 2012 model, but the 2013 does sport a stiffened body structure and revised spring and damper package in the eternal quest for crisper handling. The twin-turbo 3.8-liter V6 engine adds 12 hp from the 2012 model, and its impressive 466 ft-lbs of torque arrives over a broader range, delivered from 3,200 rpm to 5,800 rpm. Nissan claims the car can launch a 0-60 mph sprint in just 2.7 seconds -- faster than a 690-hp Lamborghini Aventador.
Between the 2012 and 2013 GT-R, the power increase isn't that noticeable, but the handling tightness comes through. It's subtle, but the car's balance and overall feel has somehow been taken from already impressive levels to a new summit. In tight, slow turns the car had a little too much understeer but was predictable and lively on power down. You can comfortably hang the rear out to dry with confidence that you could always bring it back into line when said dryness manifests.
Beyond the Corkscrew, Laguna Seca can challenge even professional drivers with its technical turns. The GT-R was more than capable, and although the custom Dunlop tires made several pleas for mercy, the brute of a machine just kept to its task.
For $96,820 for the GT-R Premium and $106,320 for the GT-R Black Edition, the Nissan remains the value leader of the world's supercars, embarrassing many of the marquis names in performance with outright speed and cornering ability -- and in some cases, doing so at half the price.
Yet that price carries some disadvantages. It's not a particularly pretty vehicle with its carp-like snout, and it doesn't come dressed with a yellow badge displaying a prancing horse, or an image of a wild jungle cat on the grill. Despite decades of breeding for performance, the GT-R remains strangely without pedigree. If Nissan's not charging $200,000 for it, can it really be considered a supercar?
What the GT-R does bring is an attitude, a "I don't give a damn who you are or how exotic you look — I'll line up next to you and simply kick your ass." That's what makes the GT-R unique: It works for a living, rather than resting on laurels it hasn't earned.
Driving Laguna Seca has long been on my bucket list of tracks to experience, and I came away just as emphatic about the place as I imagined I would. To me, it's always been a living piece of history, a classic that's meant to be tested and to test you. The same holds true for the GT-R and the core group of enthusiasts who shared the course with me that will simply not drive anything else. As one GT-R owner put it, "Once you drive Godzilla flat, you'll never be able to go back."
Having experienced that now myself, he might just be right.
Nissan provided transportation and accommodations for this event.