The Kelly brothers have visited naming rights sponsor JackDaniel’s in Tennesee this week as part of the build-up to the Austin 400, but it’sBathurst in October that’s already occupying their minds.
Nissan Motorsport driver, technical director and co-ownerTodd Kelly knows development work on the VK56DE V8 engine has to movesuccessfully forward if the team’s four Nissan Altimas are to be competitive onthe long runs up and down Mount Panorama during the Supercheap Auto Bathurst1000 on October 13.
In the first five events of the 2013 V8 Supercars Championship, including the non-Championship Australian Grand Prix, the Altimashave shown they have the potential to be front-runners but lack grunt.
But the development of the production-based VK engine can’tbe progressed significantly while the Championship rushes through a series ofclosely packed events, including the New Zealand and Texas fly aways.
“We are basically going as hard as we possibly can to makesure we can get everything we possibly can out of the car by the enduros,because if we haven’t done it by then we are going to be in a bit of troublecome Bathurst,” Kelly told V8Supercars.com.au before he and Rick toured the famousdistillery in Lynchburg.
“That’s the big date we have pinned on the calendar to makesure we have arrived at a different spec and have proven that spec well beforewe have arrived at the enduros.”
Kelly said the engine was lacking horsepower throughout therev range and also needed work on the way it accelerates.
“You can have an unbelievable engine on the dyno that won’tgo up the straights at the tracks,” Kelly explained. “So it’s not really asimple thing to develop an engine from scratch. Unfortunately that is going tobe our biggest issue and that takes time, perseverance and money.”
At the moment the team, which comprises the two Kelly-drivenJack Daniel’s Altimas and the Norton-backed cars of James Moffat and MichaelCaruso, doesn’t have enough engines to do anything other than service and race them.
Bolt-on changes can be made, something the team did when itencountered timing chain issues at Symmons Plains and was able to come up witha fix and fly the parts to New Zealand in carry-on luggage.
But the big ticket items simply can’t be developed until thisintense swing past Texas is completed.
“If there is a bolt-on part that might help us we would havestuff like that on the engine for Darwin (June 14-16),” Kelly explained. “Butif there is a manifold or cylinder head spec change we would at best be lookingat Townsville (July 5-7), which is what we are aiming for.”
Kelly admitted his frustration that the Altimas felt so goodto drive yet the power shortage meant that wasn’t translating into consistenttop 10 qualifying or race results.
“You come in and you feel that you should be in the top 10,”he said. “The cars feel good and they are doing everything right. The sectortimes are showing the cars are doing everything right in the corners.”
Meanwhile, despite concerns over the Altima’s straight line performance,Kelly has expressed his support for a potential increase in the category’sminimum weight.
A 10-15kg increase has been mooted because some teams – notablythose running Ford Falcons – are struggling to hit the 1400kg limit. Proponentsof the weight increase argue it would save cash at a time when the category istight for money.
“I haven’t got an issue having a completely level playingfield so it is fair for everyone,” Kelly said. “I have got no problem withputting a little bit of ballast in the cars compared to trying to get weightout of the car.
“We don’t have a problem with hitting the weight, it dependson what the genuine dry weight of the cars that are struggling is. If it isfive or 10 kilos that wouldn’t worry us to put that in.”