Nissan has to learn to win

  • 17/08/2014
  • By V8 Supercars
  • Virgin Australia Supercars Championship

The Nissan Motorsport squad needs to be more composed and smarter in crunch situations if it is to convert the times it has front-running pace into race wins.

That's the message from team co-owner Todd Kelly, who says the long periods the factory team has spent battling in the V8 Supercars pack means it lacks crucial experience when it fights to the front of the highly competitive field.

For the first time since the Australian Grand Prix, the Nissans were truly competitive in the last Championship event at Queensland Raceway, but came away without any silverware.

Two fifth places were the best results, despite Norton Hornets James Moffat and Michael Caruso claiming front row starting slots.

But the expectation is the track layout at next weekend's Sydney Motorsport Park 400 will also suit the Nissans, which lack grunt but handle exceptionally well, presenting the four-car squad with another chance to claim a first Championship race win of 2014.

"We are not used to being up the pointy end and it's a whole other dynamic compared to when you have been running mid to late teens all year," Kelly told v8supercars.com.au.

"You get an opportunity and it's a little bit of shock to the system when you are up there.

"So we need to learn to race up there and deal with that because we have not had a lot of opportunity to do that over the last few years."

The issues that prevented the Nissan drivers from standing on the rostrum at Queensland Raceway occurred both on-track and in pitlane.

In Race 24 Caruso lunged down the inside of Volvo's Scott McLaughlin for the lead, made contact and spun him, drawing a pitlane drive-through penalty that condemned the Nissan driver to a 24th place finish.

In Race 25 Moffat qualified on pole, but the Altima was slightly over-fuelled at his first pit stop, which affected the balance of the car and put him back out in traffic. In his final stint he rushed forward and almost snatched third from Ford's Chaz Mostert on the last lap.

Meanwhile, Caruso finished eight after running out of fuel and dropping a spot on the last lap.

"It's about not letting the pressure about the whole thing get to us," said Kelly. "When we have worked so hard for a result and when its presents itself we need to take it.

"It's not the same thing as Triple Eight (Red Bull Racing). They are used to being in that position, whereas our blokes aren't."

However, Kelly was quick to emphasise that the personnel lineup was right at the team and more opportunities would come to learn how to race at the front once the Altima was competitive at all circuits.

"The team is good, the mechanics are good, the engineers are good, the drivers are good. The car mechanically is extremely reliable and they can set them up really well. So once we get a bit of straight line speed we are laughing."

Nissan Motorsport was established as Kelly Racing by Todd and brother Rick as a privateer Holden team in 2009. Its most competitive season was 2011, when Rick finished sixth in the Drivers' Championship and claimed three wins and Greg Murphy qualified on pole at the Supercheap Autos Bathurst 1000 and finished third with the late Allan Simonsen.

The team effectively sacrificed 2012 on-track to prepare for the 2013 debut of the Nissans, Moffat claiming the Altima's sole Championship race win so far for the factory team at Winton last August.

Significant aerodynamic revisions were homologated over last summer and the focus for the Altima is on improving power delivery from the VK56DE V8 engine. An upgrade is expected for the Pirtek Enduro Cup, which begins with the Wilson Security Sandown 500 on September 12-14.

But a more sizeable boost to the engine won't happen until 2015 when a new cylinder head becomes available.

There have also been significant changes to team personnel over the years, although that has settled down of late, with former F1 engineer Craig Spencer directing engineering since 2012 and Scott Sinclair coming onboard as racing operations manager from Walkinshaw Racing in 2014.

"The guys have pushed hard and never lost their drive the whole time," said Kelly. "It's bloody frustrating because there is only a couple of things we need to get right ... and we will be consistent contenders."

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