2,000 Miles of Discovery – A Road Trip in an AMS Alpha-9 GT-R
Story by: Davin Patton
Origonal Source – NAGTROC.ORG – 2000 Miles of Discovery Thread
It was a Tuesday night when I arrived into Chicago. Chuck got in a few hours before me. He text me a warning that there was bad weather in the area. He said they’d lost power over at the AMS shop the day before. I asked if the flight was fun. He replied that the plane dropped right prior to landing, and that it was fun in a ‘you feel like you’re going to die’ sort of way. So when we approached O’Hare, I expected my life to flash before my eyes in severe turbulence. When we only got minor drops, and I never felt like we were going to crash, I was almost disappointed. Others on the plane weren’t. I guess it’s all about expectations.
Before I knew it I was in Chicago and a couple hours later I was at the hotel. It was a late day for the AMS crew, but by the time I got in, the shop was all but empty.
The next day we got up, bright and early, and made our way to AMS…
There were many things going on at the shop. I figured the lost day of productivity caused by the storm played a role in what I was seeing. From the first of the early morning crew arriving, I watched as they starting taking out all of the cars that would go outside to make room in the shop. Even though it was early, there were many smiles and jokes as they came in and out. It seemed to be an efficient operation, and when they were done everyone seemed to disappear. I wasn’t sure where they all went.
I walked around and saw the car for the first time. The AMS Shop GT-R, in all of its black Alpha-9 glory. This was the car that Chuck and I would be piloting. It was being prepared for inspection. Up until this point my expectations for the entire trip were near zero, but somehow, seeing the car in the metal changed all that.
The AMS Shop GT-R runs their Alpha-9 turbo package – which, among other things, retains Nissan’s factory engine to turbo plumbing and swaps turbo cores. With new cores comes more power, and based on the data, quite a lot of it. While there are different ways to measure power, if you go by Nissan’s factory 480hp rating, this setup will- in base form- reliably net 760-860 horsepower. On race fuel or ethanol alternative fuel, those numbers increase substantially.
With the car on a lift, I saw the JRZ Coilovers that had been mentioned to me before. It would be interesting to see how they rode on the street, I thought, remembering how stiff a standard GT-R felt on the road. The car had additional modifications as well, including a carbon composite hood and trunk, as well a stressed carbon composite roof and an Aeromotions wing. Normally a wing like that would be a laughing matter, but at the right setting the Aeromotions wing fitted would be capable of generating 800lbs of downforce by 200mph. That might sound like an unrealistic number or meaningless speed, but an Alpha-9 GT-R is capable of getting there in less than one mile.
Not far from the car was a stacked set of OEM wheels with Dunlop tires mounted. AMS had asked what tires I wanted for the trip. I could have chosen any of the tires Nissan shipped GT-Rs with: the summer Dunlop SP Sport 600 CTT DSSTs, Bridgestone Potenza RE070Rs, or the “All Season” Dunlop SP Sport 7010 A/S DSSTs. Chuck joked that AMS had slicks as well if I wanted.
Of course, I liked the idea of having the stickiest tires Nissan offers for the car, the Dunlop 600s, especially given the sheer power of the car and the fact that we’d be hunting great driving roads… but the reality of the situation dictated otherwise. We were planning on driving this GT-R for over 2,000 miles from Chicago to Southern California, and were taking a gamble trying to make it through the Colorado mountains in late October/early November. We figured it was entirely possible we’d have to divert south due to weather. It was also possible we’d get caught in inclement conditions- I’d heard that weather hits the mountains fast. With certain below freezing temperatures, a high probability of snow, and visions of spontaneous blizzards forming on us in my head, the decision seemed clear: the All Seasons would be the pick.
The cost in terms of grip didn’t seem like it would be significant to us. From what little data I’d seen, a GT-R on these tires was still in the same league, if not faster than a Porsche 997 911 Turbo on its factory Michelin Pilot Sport Cup R Compound tires. Same day testing vs a GT-R on summer Dunlops had the all seasons 3 seconds slower on a 3 minute lap at VIR. Given that neither Chuck nor myself planned on going up against the clock in any competitions, and that neither of us were professional drivers, the All Seasons seemed like they’d be perfect. They’d give us plenty of grip in conditions where the summer tires could do nothing, and would require minimal compromise when the weather was good.
Through much of the rest of the day we talked with Martin Musial, the president of AMS, about the things that were going on at AMS as well as what we were planning for our drive. Since AMS was so far behind due to the power loss it wouldn’t be possible to leave on Wednesday. We’d put enough extra time in our schedule to allow for that though so it wasn’t a problem.
The next day I saw the GT-R go through final preparation and fluid changes. Apparently the night before, one of the guys at the shop, Justin, took some strings and some funny looking pieces of metal and gave us an alignment. I knew alignments were sometimes done that way, race car style, but I never got the chance to find out more about it. I was confident the car would be fine though- earlier I had accidentally walked into Justin’s office, not realizing the World Challenge GT-R that had caught my eye sat in the middle of it.
I met Justin and learned of the fabrication and extensive chassis and suspension related work he did. I was impressed by the World Challenge GT-R in pics, but in real life, the work was incredibly detailed, thorough, and outright impressive.
Later in the morning, I watched as the Alpha-9 GT-R came down from the lift and was taken out of the shop. Not an hour later it returned. Apparently they wanted to check it themselves first to make sure everything was OK and that they were satisfied. Once that was done, the car was moved around back to the dyno. I’d never seen a GT-R on a dyno so I thought I’d peek in on it to see what was going on.
The AMS dyno room wasn’t small but it was by no means large. It was just enough to very comfortably fit a GT-R and all the computer and machine related equipment necessary. As I watched, the GT-R was tightly strapped down on the dyno via multiple points. At first, the tie down looked like they were strapping down a massive beast, not a GT-R. There were two large fans- one in front of the GT-R and one behind. Everything was started and the room got suddenly loud as the fans generated a strong airflow from the front of the car to the back. As that happened, I could feel the air pressure in the room change. Then the computer monitor next to me came alive as Chris, AMS’s master tuner, sat in the GT-R and got underway.
The sheer ferocity that is a GT-R being tested on a dyno caught me completely off guard. I’ve never been one to be moved by a GT-R’s sound. But then and there, in that room, I was in awe. The raw volume of sound from the VR38 seemed to penetrate my entire body. I could feel the roar of the VR38 in my chest. I could even feel the engine’s scream in my feet, through the floor. As the car approached redline, the HKS / AMS exhaust sounded unearthly. Then the GR6 interrupted this roar of authority with its insane shifting. As Chris shifted the car repeatedly, revving the car out time and again, it started to become apparent just what Nissan had made. This was a machine not for competition, it had a different purpose. I could barely hear myself think as the motor screamed. The shifting was so fast and the engine was so loud, I could have seen why people take dyno videos. But videos do not convey the sheer violence of what happens with high powered GT-Rs on dynos.
I was told the tune we’d be given would have a large margin of safety built into it. That was because we wouldn’t find 93 octane where we were going, it was likely we’d only find 91 octane, and probably not the name brand kind. In this context I was impressed by the numbers: the car was tuned to run just over 775 horsepower in comparison with the factory’s 480.
Once clear of the dyno, we started to load our things in the Alpha-9 GT-R. Chuck and myself each had three weeks worth of clothes to put in. With my two carry on sized suitcases and Chuck’s single larger suitcase, we were able to fit all of our things in the trunk with no problem. (It helps to have your own GT-R at home to test this out with) Inside, the rear half of the car was caged. Despite that, we easily fit three bags in the back seat- two very full book bags and a third bag full of camera gear and all of the supporting devices we’d need to keep everything charged and happy.
Then came the safety equipment. We had coolant and various oils in the trunk while inside we had a fire extinguisher as well as the ability to get a signal on all major cell networks in the US.
We were told that Dan, one of the sales guys at the shop, would be leaving soon with the Rig for Las Vegas and then California. The Rig had the AMS Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X shop car in it, as well as a full set of tools, fuel, wheels/tires and other odds and ends. It also had space for the GT-R. If something happened to the car when we were on the road, Dan would be able to come get us. I didn’t like that idea and although Dan was definitely a cool guy, I didn’t want to see him until Las Vegas.
At long last, the Alpha-9 GT-R was rolled out front, and with little fanfare, we said our goodbyes.
I would be taking the first stint behind the wheel, piloting the car outside of the city and getting us underway through the first full tank of gas. As we walked out to the car I snapped a few pics.
I had absolutely no idea what to expect from this trip and at the start, my expectations were very low. This would be my first trip through the western states. Never before had I been to Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, or Utah. I was told the first 14-15 hours of driving, from Chicago to Denver, would be incredibly boring with no sights to see. After that, I was told the drive would be fun, whatever that meant. From prior experience on US highways, at least in the deep south, I didn’t expect a whole lot.
I climbed into the Alpha-9 GT-R and closed the door. The GT-R’s computer actuated windows sealed the cabin with the typical GT-R air-tight feel. For a moment, all was silent. I reached over to start the engine and Chuck said, OK, take it easy, don’t get us killed. I smiled and with my foot on the brake, pushed start on an Alpha-9 GT-R for the very first time.