Johnny O'Connell and the Nissan P35

By Michael J. Fuller

>>Mulsanne's Corner:  What is your professional background?

Johnny O'Connell:  Racing professionally since 1985.  Prior to that I worked for the Gallo Wine Company in sales.

>>MC:  What is your racing background?

JO: Pretty widespread.  Corvette racing since 2001, Panoz 1998-2000, various WSC cars 1996-1998, IRL 1996, Nissan GTO/GTP test driver 1992-1995, Indy lights 1989, 1991, Formula Atlantic 1987 and other stuff.

>>MC:  How did you become involved with Nissan and specifically the P35?

JO:After doing a test in the GTP car in 1992 at Firebird, I was asked by Kas Kasner to be part of the P-35 testing, and then be one of the drivers that would race it.

>>MC:  What was your reaction when you first saw the P35?  What were your first driving impressions? How did the car feel?

JO:  The car was breathtakingly beautiful.  A very nice looking car.  Handling and braking was just incredible.  But pretty underpowered.  How did the car feel?  The car felt great.  It just needed more HP.

>>MC:  How many test sessions did you participate in?  Venues and dates if you can recall?  Lap times, top speeds achieved?

JO:  We did two tests of several days at Daytona, in the summer and fall of 1992.  What was amazing was that our top speed was only in the 170 MPH range, but we were still doing laps in the 1:38 range with average laps in 1:39.  Not as quick as the Toyota was doing at that time which I believe was around the 1:34 range, but then again the car had no power.  In the corners and under braking the car was unbelievable.

>>MC:  What can you tell us about the Nissan V12?  There have been comments regarding it’s projected power (630) and it’s actual (around 520).  What can you recall?  How drivable was the engine?

JO:  Well it was about the most amazing sounding engine I have driven.  It totally screamed.  But the power was just never there.  It was quite drivable, but as it lacked power, the throttle was more of an on/off switch.  You didn't spend a lot of time worrying about the car getting away from you from power. 

>>MC:  In your testing at Daytona, was there more to be seen from the car?  Did you ever begin to reach the car’s potential optimum setup?  How hard was the car being pushed for lap time?

JO:  We were totally pushing hard at the test.  A lot of that was just trying to outdo the other drivers, but also you had to see what the car would do.  We made a lot of improvements on handling, but what it really needed was more HP.  We did a fair amount of changes to the air intake to try and get more power but nothing had much effect.  I would think that handling wise we got the car pretty nice. 

>>MC:  What methods did you have to adjust the car’s aerodynamic balance (wing angles, ride height, etc.)?  Did the P35 have an inherent understeer or oversteer condition?

JO:  We were changing all aspects of the car.  Ride height, springs, bars, wings, a lot of stuff.  The inherent characteristic of the car was just a touch of understeer on entry, and then a touch of oversteer on exit.

>>MC:  Given the car’s enormous downforce, where there any driver issues that would need to have been addressed?  Did the car have power steering?  Was the driver position comfortable for the high g-loads?

JO:  The driving position was comfortable, but there was no power steering, and it took a lot of strength to turn the car.   It was quite difficult on the banking, but then that was the case for most cars back then.

>>MC:  Were there areas of the car that could have used improvement?

JO:  Well all cars can use improvement, but the primary area on the P-35 would have been to get more horsepower.

>>MC:  You’re familiar with a variety of racecars; your resume has depth.  Does any other car, contemporary or in the past, begin to exude the same impressions of downforce and speed?

JO:  Well the Nissan GTP car was quite special as it had an amazing engine, but then at the same time you could say the same about the Panoz LMP that I drove.  When they were using Yates engines in particular it was quite impressive, and a very very fun car to drive.

>>MC:  What were your feelings when the project was shelved?  What was your participation going to be?  What events was Nissan planning to attend with the P35?

JO:  Well, I was totally disappointed as I thought it was a special car with potential.  We were going to do Daytona and Le Mans with it, and had the horsepower come in line, I think it would have done well.

Many thanks to Johnny O'Connell

ęCopyright 2003, Michael J. Fuller