V8 Supercars: Return of Nissan to fast track

By Eric Thompson

The new teams must play catch-up to Holden and Ford in the V8 Supercars points chase

Nissan Motorsport's return to V8 racing in Australia will take a bit of work this time around, unlike back in the day when they dominated. Rule changes meant the Japanese manufacturer was not eligible for the V8 Supercars category, and it wasn't until this year they could come and play again.

When Nissan last entered the fray they at least had a car that was up to the might of Aussie big muscle racing. In 1984, Nissan made history in Australia Touring Car racing when George Fury plonked his Nissan Bluebird on pole for the Bathurst 1000.

Fury and co-driver Gary Scott brought the car home in 16th place but it signalled the start of things to come. By the early 1990s Nissan were winning championships and Bathurst titles and were the dominant force in the category.

Now they're back on the grid and struggling a little. Not surprising, though, as they haven't had the two decades to fine tune an engine as Ford and Holden have had.

Despite all this Rick Kelly and his brother Todd took a leap of faith and decided to trade in their Kelly Brothers Racing Holden Commodores for Nissan Altimas.

"I'm quite excited about the whole thing," said Rick Kelly.

"There are so many things on the new car that we can change to try and find the sweet spot and after the last round in Tasmania we're heading in the right direction."

The results from the round showed James Moffat had the best finish, in 15th, with Rick Kelly in 16th.

"Tasmania was still a bit of a disappointment, though, because of the long straight and our cars being down on horsepower," said Rick Kelly.

"It was exciting from a set-up point of view on the other hand, being able to get a performance gain by getting the set-up on the car right.

"We're definitely making good progress with the car now and getting more confident and a whole lot more comfortable about how we go about getting more speed out of the cars."

The lack of engine grunt will be a handicap on the faster circuits, but less so on the more technical tracks. When the V8 Supercars were last at Pukekohe it was regarded as one of the fastest tracks on the calendar.

However, with the introduction of three newcorners down the back straight, horsepower may not be too much of a telling factor. The Nissan team needs every little advantage it can get at the moment because of practice sessions being just 30 minutes long, which isn't time enough to maximise development of the car.

"If we want to change something or experiment during practice it takes five to 10 minutes to change something and then get all the gear back up to temperature again to push hard," said the team's engineering manager, Craig Spencer.

"Therefore, you can only get one or two things done in a session. We do have a pretty good understanding with the software side of things and the simulations we go through.

"Obviously, the engines are a massive project. That engine has raced in a different series, with different regulations and a different configuration [5.6-litres], whereas the Ford/Holden engines have had continuing work done on them for the last 14 to 18 years.

"We've managed to come a long way in a short amount of time, but we need to find more power and the engine department is very busy at this point.

"The balance of the car is quite good and reacts well to changes. We've still got a lot of work to do on understanding how the 18-inch tyre works - as all the teams have - but we're getting there and are reasonably happy [with] how the programme is progressing."

Spencer went so far as to say the team have to learn to walk before they can run. He's confident that by mid-season they'll have a regular challenger in the top half of the field.

Another bloke who is beginning to realise the challengers ahead won't be pushovers is Nissan Motorsport manager Jeff Fisher, who's keenly aware the campaign is very much a work in progress at the moment.

"We're trying to get the right mix of chassis and engine power to suit the various circuits at present," said Fisher.

"A brand new car with a brand new chassis and brand new engine characteristics all coming together at the same time are causing quite a bit of work for the boys.

"They're getting on with it and each car had different geometry for each race in Tasmania and so were very much in experimentation mode.

"It's been a great adventure over the past year and the fans couldn't have been more enthusiastic. It's the first time Nissan has been back in Australian V8 racing in 20 years and a lot of people are very happy about that."

If Nissan and AMG Mercedes can get their respective acts together over the next few months, and feature at the pointy end of the field, it wouldn't be too optimistic to say next that there will be more manufacturers in the game.

- NZ Herald

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