We’re mixing things up slightly with our series of The essence of Z-ness. This time, we spoke with professional race driver Tsugio Matsuda, who is not only a seasoned GT500 Nissan race driver, Matsuda also assisted in developing the Z Proto’s instrument panel.
Matsuda burst onto the Japanese motorsports scene when he finished second in the 2002 All Japan Grand Touring Car Championships. He joined Nissan in Super GT in 2006, winning at Autopolis that same year. He followed that with back-to-back Formula Nippon championships in 2007 and 2008, and back-to-back Super GT series GT500 class championships in 2014 and 2015. Currently, Matsuda has the most wins in the Super GT series, with 22 victories, and aims toward his 23rd in the 2021 season.
2006 Z33 Super GT racecar
2021 GT-R Super GT racecar
Q: How did you get involved with the Z project?
Matsuda: Hiroshi Tamura, the chief product specialist of the Z, approached me and mentioned that he wanted to give the next Z a distinct racing flavor. Because of my experience in GT racing, and the fact that I perform lots of on-track testing, he specifically wanted to know what I thought was important when driving hard on the race track. I told him that the instrument gauges in racecars tend to make a big difference for timing your upshifts.
Learn more about developing the Z Proto with Hiroshi Tamura here
Q: What advice did you give exactly?
Matsuda: Our racecars are equipped with shift lights that indicate when to upshift when optimal rpm is reached. The light sequence usually goes from green to yellow to red, with red telling the driver to shift to the next gear. I told Tamura-san that I wanted to see this in the next Z.
I also wanted the redline on the tachometer to be at the top (at the 12-o’clock position), so when the shift light turns red it does so at the same time the tachometer needle is reaching redline. When you’re driving hard, the bottom area of the tachometer doesn’t come into view, but having that redline at the top near the shift light makes the needle easily visible at the most crucial time. This also makes it easier to avoid over revving, which can be harmful to your lap times and engine.
Nissan Z Proto demonstration meter display shown
Q: Why is having this system so important in racecars? Can’t you simply watch the tach needle?
Matsuda: When racing, you’re usually carrying a lot of speed and your field of vision sometimes narrows. And if your eyes need to focus on different areas in the car, you might become a bit disoriented or distracted. By having the shift light and the tachometer placed in your field of vision, you can see when to upshift without having to take your eyes off the road.
Q: What are your past experiences with the Z?
Matsuda: In 2006, the Z was the first GT500 machine I drove for Nissan, a Z33 racecar. Also, back then I had a Fairlady Z Version NISMO Type 380RS, which had a limited production run of 300 units. I often went for nice drives in that car and took it to the circuit for personal sessions. The car was loaned to me, but I enjoyed it so much I didn’t want to give it back! I ended up driving that car for five years and probably put 80,000 km on the odometer roaming parts of Japan.
I now have an S30 Fairlady Z that I’ve been tuning to suit both afternoon drives and spirited runs along Japan’s landscapes. From the S30 to even the Z33 GT racecar, there’s no denying they have that distinct “Z-ness” essence. The Z has been a part of my life, both in my career and personal life. I’m happy that I could contribute to the Z Proto, and to the Z legacy.
Fairlady Z Version NISMO Type 380RS
Matsuda’s personal S30 Fairlady Z