SlotsInTheCity.com EXCLUSIVE First Review!
Back in September 2014, I spent a little time at Slot.it HQ chatting with Maurizio Ferrari. This turned out to be a real treat for me, as I got the chance to examine and test-drive pre-production examples of a number of cars – months before their official release. Two in particular really piqued my interest – first, the technically-intriguing 4WD Audi R18 e-Tron Quattro which should hit our shelves around Easter 2015… and, this beauty:
…the Nissan R89C.
The Nissan R89C was a Group C race car developed by Nissan to participate in the World Sportscar Championship and All Japan Sports Prototype Championship, as well as the 1989 24 Hours of Le Mans. Developed in conjunction with Lola, and replacing the original March-built series of prototypes that Nissan had used, the R89C featured a kevlar and carbon-fibre based monocoque chassis with Nissan’s twin-turbo VRH35 3.5L V8 DOHC engine, producing up to 950bhp, mounted in a stressed installation for better chassis rigidity. Car #23 was driven by M. Hasemi, K. Hoshino and T. Suzuki.
One of the most beautiful Group C cars ever, this Japanese racer is a completely new design from Slot.it.With removable rear wheel covers, 16g body, and all the latest technical improvements, it’s going to be a serious contender in any Group C race. [Slot.it]
And it was that last point I wanted to focus on. Slot.it Gp.C is a hugely popular class to race in but, whether sprint or endurance; our races are frequently dominated by the Porsche 956s and 962s. That said, my own Gulf 956, being one of the earlier models, has never been quite as nimble and competitive as the newer, lighter-bodied versions – I wanted (read: needed!) a ‘serious contender’ of my own, but preferably not another Porsche… something to bring some variety to our Gp.C grid! To illustrate why I felt that this was important, a Gp.C meeting over here with enough entrants to warrant numerous heats can not only be split into purely-Porsche groups, but also into livery-specific ones like this (below, left)…
…ah, the “Jägermeister-Gruppe”! Quite a popular spectacle here in Germany – but, difficult to drive in, and a marshal’s nightmare! I much prefer our most recent Gp.C grid (above, right) – every car a unique livery. This was the concept for the second part of my review; throw the all-new Nissan R89C in at the deep end by entering it in the first round of our Gp.C series with some well-fettled favourites from last season, to see if it could surprise a few of those 2014 stalwarts. But first, back to the beginning!
I’d assumed that this model was going to arrive wrapped in one of the new-look black cardboard sleeves but, to my surprise, it didn’t. No matter – it’s what’s inside that counts, so that standard orange Slot.it sleeve is just fine with me. The car itself is a stunning thing – a beautiful design, faithfully reproduced in the striking Calsonic livery, with an excellent paint finish and solid, sharp, tampo printing… even the extremely small logos on the nose, mirrors and in front of the exhausts, for example. The colours are bright, deep and shiny where they should be and the correct matte-black where they shouldn’t – such as areas along the upper and lower windscreen edges and behind the side windows. I couldn’t help noticing that Slot.it had gone to considerable lengths to include even the smallest of small details; there are enough studs around the exhaust openings and along the photo-etch lip of the rear spoiler to keep any rivet-counter happy.
The only feature that I wasn’t so sure about – nit-picking, perhaps – is that the A-pillars are painted onto the window moulding rather than moulded as part of the bodyshell, which leads you to notice the ridge around the leading edge of the roofline where it meets the top of the windscreen. It’s not a problem, the car doesn’t look much the worse for it (and the model is likely stronger because as a result), I just found it a little odd that the cabin area doesn’t have that flush-fit appearance of other models in the Slot.it catalogue when so much effort had been put into smaller and arguably less important details elsewhere on the bodywork.
Back to the positive features, it’s nice to see that the spoiler is fixed to the car on a flexible plastic mounting to withstand the predictable racing rough and tumble – and those who prefer to eliminate that risk altogether can remove the assembly completely, as it isn’t glued or even clipped in place; it can easily be slipped on and off of a post moulded into the underside of the bodyshell whenever the body is separated from the chassis. Also removable are the panels that cover each rear wheel – doing so may spoil the clean lines of the car a little, but at least here it doesn’t leave the logos split in the same way that removing the similar panels from a Jaguar XJR9/12 does!
While the bodyshell is off, you’ll find that everything else is reassuringly standard Slot.it – orange-endbell motor, 0.5mm-offset inline motorpod, 9/28 gears, guide, axles, 15.8mm plastic front and 16.5mm aluminium rear wheels – the same as those fitted to all recent Gp.C releases. The wiring had been very neatly soldered and routed to the guide, grub-screwed in securely and with enough length to allow smooth, full rotation and self-centering with no binding. So, it might be a new-look Gp.C beauty on the outside, but it’s still the same Slot.it Gp.C regular on the inside… am I still expecting this to be a ‘serious contender’ for the Gp.C crown? Better get it on a track and find out.
Straight out of the box, the Nissan R89C made its’ first few test-laps of our club circuit as smoothly and quietly as I’ve come to expect from a Slot.it – no suspect noises and no nasty surprises! The C1-compound tyres fitted to the rear worked very well – while these are not my first choice for Carrera track, and will soon be replaced with a regulation pair, I’m sure they’re great all-rounders to suit many track surfaces. Bringing the car in briefly and removing the bodyshell to pop out the magnet revealed that, although space is tight at the slightly-tapered rear end with those panels covering the wheels, everything had been set up very precisely back at the factory and there were no signs of any fouling.
A second session, now mag-less and running the bodyshell and motorpod screws very slightly loose to allow the chassis to flex and do its thing, left me feeling that the braids were a little stiff for a car as light as this, but the guide-blade is deep and so turn-in was pretty good – I just had to be a little cautious when powering out of tighter bends. Spreading the braids a little, flattening and widening them out seemed to help cure that slightly floaty-feeling from the front. The car runs very low; feeling nimble as it changes direction through the esses confidently, reminding me of a shorter-wheelbase car. And yet, when I wound it up through a fast sweeper and out onto a long straight, the stability of the chassis felt more like a longer car. Equally impressed and confused, I decided it was time to take a closer look at things and do some direct comparisons to the previous year’s class-leader, the Porsche 956.
So, it seems that Slot.it has managed to do many things, here. First, the weight of the Nissan bodyshell (and, therefore, also the centre of gravity) is lower than the comparison Porsche; without the panels covering the wheels, it’s 14.5gr vs. 16.5gr on my scales; that’s a 12% reduction. Further to that, the body style of the Nissan means that there is a lot less bodywork and chassis overhang at the rear, which means more of that weight is distributed between the wheels, reducing the tendency to drift or fish-tail out of corners if the rear tyres do let go. And, there is more distance between the axles, too… 3mm might not sound like a lot, but I’m convinced that this additional length is what helped to make the car more stable at speed – especially when you factor in an additional 3mm of distance between the guide pivot-point and the front axle. For all intents and purposes, this car is essentially 6mm longer within a shorter, lighter body.
…head to head.
I decided that the most fair way to compare these two cars to each other was to first establish a target lap-time in the 956, which had been set up according to our club regulations, and then transfer all of the running gear from that across to the Nissan before attacking the time on the same lane. This way, both cars would be working with the same tyres, motor and gears to hopefully eliminate any opportunity for mechanical disparity to affect the result. It sounds involved, but it really is just a case of swapping the complete motor pod along with the guide-blade… a few screws and a five-minute job once you’ve had a bit of practice!
So – with thinner braids, sealed front tyres and regulation ScaleAuto SC2007 rears, but everything else as Slot.it intended, the Porsche was good to go. The time to beat? 10.07s
Five minutes later, now refitted with the innards from the Porsche, the Nissan was ready to make its challenge. Immediately, I had it lapping in the low 10s – but I felt that I could get these times with less effort than the 956 required. The R89C appears lower and more planted, encouraging me to get the power down earlier and earlier each lap. I don’t know if aerodynamics function measurably at this scale, but that’s how the Nissan R89C felt to me… almost like it was drawing itself down onto to the track surface and forcing the tyres to hold on longer around the bends. The lap-times kept gradually falling and, while I did manage one freakishly fast 9.64s, I couldn’t repeat it – 9.82s to 9.77s were my best consistent times. I was confident that, with a little time to fine-tune the ballast, the lap-times would fall further but, at that moment, I had to concede that I’d run out of time for the evening – race day tomorrow!
…into the fray!
The 1989 World Sportscar Championship season was dominated by the Sauber Mercedes team while Nissan struggled to find not only reliability, but also pace – the R89C was only able to score points in three of the eight races. As mentioned and pictured above, I’d entered the Slot.it Nissan R89C in the first round of our Gp.C series with some well-fettled favourites from last season, and I was hoping for more than Nissan achieved in 1989… and more was exactly what I got. With our start positions decided by last year’s series results, but without the reigning champion in attendance, the Nissan and I were able to start from pole – daunting! Lined up next to me was another recent Slot.it release, the CA08e Italya Sports Lancia LC2 – but it was the previously race-proven CA25a Coke IMSA Porsche 962 on position Nº3 and its more experienced owner at the trigger that I was watching out for.
I won’t bore you with a lengthy race report – this is, after all, about the car and not the race – but, in short… our Gp.C rounds are run in groups of six eight-minute heats – and the Nissan lead the first three right from the get-go. After that, experience and ballast tactics resulted in that Coke IMSA 962 catching and passing us, and I lost a fair chunk of time after encountering a stricken back-marker who’d parked themselves neatly across my lane but neglected to make a track-call. I feared the worst when I heard the impact, but there wasn’t a scratch to the front of the Nissan… impromptu crash test passed! Unfortunately, I then made a few frustrating errors of my own while succumbing to the pressures of playing catch-up… I was three laps down by the end of the fifth heat. But, having collected it all back together and regained my composure for the sixth and final heat, the Coke 962 and Calsonic R89C both clocked exactly the same fastest times – on consecutive laps, no less – and finished that final heat with little more than one section of track between them… to say their performance was close would’ve been an understatement! Result? 275 hugely entertaining 38m laps in 48 minutes, three laps down on the winner – but 17 ahead of the third place finisher, a CA02g Bob Jane Porsche 956.
Once again, Slot.it has struck a fantastic balance between detailed model and competent, robust racer. But, more than that, they’ve managed to incrementally improve upon their range without upsetting the performance balance. If this Calsonic Nissan R89C is your first Slot.it Gp.C purchase, you will not be disappointed – it’s a fantastic looking model to own and, as hopefully demonstrated above, a great performer on the track. But it’s probably more likely that you’ll be adding this Nissan to an existing grid of Gp.C racers and, if that is the case, then you can be sure that this will give many of them a good run for their money without upsetting your established favourites too much!
Simply put, I find the Slot.it Nissan R89C an easier car to drive faster than many other models in their Gp.C line-up. I think it speaks volumes about this model that, with only minimal time to set up and prepare for a club race series, I could pilot it to second place against one of our club veterans in a car he’d spent a lot of time fettling last season. A little more track time, perhaps some fine-tuning to the ballast, and this Nissan will be just what I wanted; a serious contender for this year’s Slot.it Gp.C series.
Available in stores: 12th February 2015
I’d like to say a big thank you to Maurizio at Slot.it for showing me this car back in September and also for liaising with Sean at Pendles to send one of the first examples out to me so quickly – I’m very pleased to have one of these in my collection!
Thanks also go to my clubmates at SRMH-Mülheim – not only for track-time on the circuit, but also for their patience as we dismantled, weighed, measured and compared our various cars during scrutineering!