Ok, be honest. Atlantic Canada probably isn’t the first spot on this planet most people think of when discussing motorsport – particularly road course racing.
Tasty lobster? Sure. Delicious donairs? Yeah, buddy.
But winding and sinewy tracks with some turns that’d give Laguna Seca a run for its money in terms of difficulty? As the kids would say, “prolly nawt.”
Fortunately, as a gearhead in this neck of the woods, you know better.
AMP is regarded in some circles as one of the most technical circuits in Canada
Atop the heap is Atlantic Motorsport Park, an 11-turn road course that’s been hosting speed freaks and their cars since the mid-‘70s and has seen such speedy luminaries as Gilles Villeneuve turn wheels in anger across its tarmac.
One of the most unusual things about this place? It was designed, built, and now operated since August 1974 by a volunteer group of motorsport enthusiasts. Folks from automobile, bike, and snowmobile racing groups all help keep the lights on – no small feat in today’s economy.
In fact, Atlantic Motorsport Park is believed to be the only track in North America which hosts national series competition that is volunteer run. AMP is regarded in some circles as one of the most technical circuits in Canada, offering a challenging learning environ for novice and advanced drivers alike.
Instead of this hidden gem in our backyard, however, your East Coast author voyaged to the other coast, to Sonoma, California, to test the 2024 Nissan Z Nismo, in ITS backyard.
A racetrack: An ideal spot in which to press the 2024 Nissan Z Nismo
Serving as the halo trim of that brand’s two-door Z sports car, the Nismo deploys 420 horsepower and 384 lb.-ft of torque to great effect, all funneled through the rear wheels as nature and Yoshisuke Aikawa – one of the original founders of Nissan – intended.
The extra power is courtesy of some ignition tricks learned from the mighty GT-R, plus a turbo which spins 5,000 rpm higher than a regular Z. A single shot down Sonoma’s drag strip produced a quarter-mile time in the 12 seconds but we do think 11 seconds are possible with a more experienced driver.
This thing is properly fleet of foot.
Addressing the elephant in this room, Nissan has made the decision to offer a 9-speed automatic as the sole transmission choice on this lairiest of Z cars.
The company claims their market research suggested potential buyers are primarily concerned about lap times and content to sacrifice the extra driver engagement of a six-speed manual in trade for shaving a few tenths off their personal best.
Since a manual ‘box exists for this platform – and Nissan engineers personally told this author that it can handle the power (and not slow down any certification processes) – we think there’s a non-zero chance the company will be offering a stickshift in the next couple of years. The crew at Toyota did exactly this for their Supra.
The Nissan Z Nismo – a streetable track weapon?
With only a few pre-production examples of the Z Nismo having yet spurted out of a Nissan factory, we sampled the car a lot closer to its home – California, in fact.
Belting around Sonoma Speedway (old timers like this writer still call it Sears Point, by the way), the effort Nissan engineers plowed into this project to turn the already capable Z into something of a streetable track weapon is evident.
Its brakes, upgraded in both size and piston caliper count to 380mm and 4, respectively, was the very first takeaway of the Nismo improvements. Compared with a non-Nismo Z driven moments earlier, the stoppers bite harder and inspire more confidence, encouraging different braking points without the need for several Hail Marys.
Once into the corner, gummy Nismo-spec rubber in the form of Dunlop SP Sport Maxx shoes does its job providing mountains of grip.
These are the type of tires which need heat in them to work properly and are reduced to hockey pucks below 10 degrees Celsius.
Most parts of the suspension have been stiffened compared to a stock Z – tauter bushings, increased spring rates, and beefier sway bars. Nissan is adamant these and some physical aero changes actually create downforce, not just reduce lift. We would find it difficult to argue the point.
As for the cabin, Nissan smartly installed manually-adjustable Recaro-style seats, though this 6’6” author could not realistically fit comfortably in the driver’s seat whilst wearing a helmet.
Four laps of Sonoma was a realistic limit before my neck started to sound and feel like dry pasta. Sans brain bucket, headroom was fine, as evidenced by a three-hour tour on the paved public roads around Sonoma earlier that day.
And more than good enough to sling around the challenges of Atlantic Motorsport Park.
One of AMP’s greatest challenges is its so-called “dog-leg”, a downhill stretch through corners 1 and 2 which are followed by a roller-coaster ride through the next three bends. If its performance in California is any indication, Z Nismo owners around these parts will make quick work of those turns – and wear a rictus grin whilst doing so.
Priced at an ambitious $75,998 before fees, the Nissan Z Nismo goes on sale this autumn.