The results don’t show it, but factory Nissan Motorsportdriver Michael Caruso believes he is driving at a higher level than ever in2013.
Faced with a power deficit compared to most rivals on the V8Supercar grid, the Norton Nissan Altima driver has reviewed his driving styleforensically looking for improvements.
“I am asking a lot more of my driving this year and I enjoythat,” the 29-year old told V8Supercars.com.au. “I like to improve as a driverand this gives me an opportunity at the moment to refine my driving and make ita lot better.
“When we improve in the engine it will show for sure.”
Caruso was speaking before he sampled the production Altimain the USA this week in the lead-up to the Austin 400 at the Circuit of theAmericas in Texas.
On Tuesday, along with teammates Todd and Rick Kelly, Carusotoured the Smyrna plant in Tennessee where the Altima is built, visited thecompany’s North American headquarters at nearby Franklin and then had a steerof an Altima.
While he has raced the V8 Supercar version of the Altimasince February, the road car does not go on-sale for some months in Australia.
The Altima V8 Supercars program has been hampered by ashortage of horsepower of the production-based VK56DE engine the team uses.Serious developments aimed at bridging the gap to the established Fords andHoldens should start flowing through by the Sucrogen Townsville 400 in July.
“You know you are losing down the straight, so you take moreout of what’s going on in the corner,” Caruso explained. “You have toscrutinise that part of the corner a bit more, whether it be the handling ofthe car or the way I can approach the corner and the inputs I put into the car.
“Obviously a big part of driving is what we do. You can getmore out of the car looking at what you are doing. When you are at the front ofthe field you are not going to be constantly pushing yourself because you areat the front, so now is a good opportunity for that.”
Despite his efforts Caruso is yet to score a top 10 finishin a championship race this year. In race one at the Chill Perth 360 he racedfrom the back of the grid to 11th, finishing immediately behind his teammateJames Moffat. But on Sunday he suffered a slow pit stop in the first race andthen a wheel fell off in the second race after his pit stop.
Despite the dramas and frustrations, he remains focussed onthe long term positives.
“I am still pretty motivated because I can see so many goodthings in the team once we get things happening it is going to be good.
“One of the reasons I made the decision to come to Nissanwas I wanted to be part of a program from the ground up and that is exactlywhat it is. I feel it’s great to be factory driver, but as part of that I wantto be part of something that I can build with the race team and hopefully getto the point where I can be very successful.
“That is something that really inspires me to work harder.”
Caruso, whose five year main game stint with Garry RogersMotorsport yielded one race win at Darwin in 2009, has enjoyed racingtoe-to-toe with the Kellys and Moffat. Some of the best battles this year havebeen between the four Nissans in the midfield.
“I can drive door to door with any three of them and beconfident I can come out of the corner and still be on the track,” Caruso said.“That’s an important part that we treat each other with respect on the circuit.
“But we don’t follow each other around in a procession.Obviously we all want to be the best so it’s important if there is anopportunity to pass we take it.”
This weekend in Texas, which comprises four 100km races withmandatory pit stops for tyres, Caruso isn’t kidding himself that it will beanything but tough: “The pit stops make it harder for us this weekend becausewe tend to look after our tyres and move forward in the races. But we will justhave to make it work for us as best we can.”