Nissan Motorsport Australia
Team(s): Plus Fitness Racing / Castrol Racing / Drive Racing / Team Harvey Norman
Team Principal: Todd Kelly; Rick Kelly
Chassis: Nissan Altima
Drivers Championships: –
Drivers: Andre Heimgartner (Plus Fitness Racing) / Rick Kelly (Castrol Racing) / Michael Caruso (Drive Racing) / Simona De Silvestro (Team Harvey Norman)
A brief history
After a 20-year exile from the series, Nissan returned to V8 Supercars in 2013. Formerly Kelly Racing, the team was rebranded Nissan Motorsport Australia at the completion of the 2012 season, campaigning four factory Nissan Altima V8 Supercars in 2013, headed by Rick and Todd Kelly.
Born out of Perkins Engineering at the beginning of 2009, when the Kelly brothers broke their 12-year tie with Walkinshaw Racing to setup their own team, Kelly Racing’s switch from running Holden Commodores to becoming the factory Nissan team, marked the first time that the brothers had sat in anything other than a Holden in their V8 Supercar careers. After leasing two Racing Entitlements Contracts (RECs) from Larry Perkins, Kelly Racing now own all four RECs after Perkins sold both to the Kelly family in January 2013.
In what the Championship newcomer classed as a development season, the Nissan team put itself on the map claiming its first race win, albeit in controversial circumstances. V8 Supercars’ decision to test experimental fuel in Saturday’s opening race of the Winton 360 allowed James Moffat and Michael Caruso’s cars to run on a different fuel to most of the field – a reduced fuel blend of the E85 ethanol to help improve the Altima’s fuel economy which had struggled to match the fuel consumption of the heavily developed Holden and Ford race engines. The two Nissans finished one-two. Despite V8 Supercars stressing that analysis of its track and dyno testing of the alternate fuel proved that it provided no performance advantage, officials decided against using the E70 fuel blend to solve the parity debate. However, permission to re-homologate the aero kit (which included an end-plate mounted rear wing) and bring in a revised engine package was granted.
In its second year of competition, Nissan Motorsport Australia retained the same driver line-up, but found themselves relegated to the mid pack. Still suffering from being down on power compared to the rest of the pack, Caruso finished the highest placed of the four drivers in tenth. However, it was at Bathurst that the team scored its best result with Moffat and co-driver Taz Douglas finishing second. During the off season Nissan Motorsport refined the Altima’s aero package in the quest to find straight-line top speed, its third different iteration in as many years. After early promises at the pre-season test, 2015 was a mixed bag for Nissan, Rick Kelly being the undeniable standout driver for the team.
Following three seasons of homologation, the team entered the 2016 season without a major aero package change, focusing instead on engine and chassis development. It was also the first time Nissan Motorsport Australia had a change in its driver line-up, with Dale Wood joining Rick Kelly, Todd Kelly and Michael Caruso. After a solid start to the season, Caruso became the first Nissan driver since Moffat in 2013 to win a race, running away to a win in Darwin. The rest of the team were unable to show the same pace throughout the year with Wood fighting at the back and the Kelly brothers in the sharp end of the mid-pack. For Bathurst, the team took on the Harvey Norman Supergirls entry of Simona de Silvestro and Renee Gracie, running their car for the endurance classic.
The 2017 season saw the Kelly brothers stay and Caruso joined by Simona de Silvestro, the first full-time female driver in the Supercars era. After two forays in a Supercar as a Bathurst 1000 wild card (2015 and 2016), the former IndyCar and Formula E driver’s impressive form secured sponsorship funding from Supercars for a three-year programme aimed at increasing female representation in the championship.
Struggling to get to grips with the 2017-specification Dunlop tyres for much of the season, 2017 yielded little reward for Nissan, with no wins or podiums. Caruso was the team’s best-placed driver in 13th just ahead of Rick Kelly, with Todd Kelly 18th and rookie Simona De Silvestro in 24th. The Newcastle 500 was also to be Todd Kelly’s last race weekend as he called time on a championship career spanning two decades.
Earlier in the year, Australian sales of the Altima, which has underpinned its Supercars campaign since it joined in 2013, were discontinued. Furthermore, Nissan Australia boss Richard Emery left the Japanese marque amid uncertainty regarding the manufacturer’s plans to commit to Supercars beyond 2018.
However, there are still some positives to take into 2018. De Silvestro impressed many in her rookie season, in particular at Newcastle where she was on course to finish the year with a top-ten result before being spun. Improving on her qualifying performance will be key. Nissan Motorsport Australia also signed up Andre Heimgartner as a replacement for the retiring Todd Kelly. It marks a return to full-time Supercars competition for Heimgartner, who contested the 2015 and 2016 seasons with Super Black Racing and Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport, and who impressed with drives in the wet alongside Tim Slade at last year’s Bathurst 1000 and Gold Coast 600.