Michael Caruso has branded this year a fight-back season after getting off on the wrong foot at the Clipsal 500.
The Nissan driver earned a 25-point penalty for contact with David Reynolds in Saturday’s second race and slammed into the turn eight wall laps later.
He lined up on Sunday morning with a negative four pointscore and a chassis that would be swapped out for the next event, the Australian Grand Prix, after the damage sustained.
Now, Caruso is knocking on the door of the top 10 and duelling with teammate and boss Rick Kelly for best-placed Nissan Altima for 2015 with two rounds remaining.
“I’m not too pleased with the year so far, but to be lining up near the top 10 of the championship at this part of the year ... ultimately it’s a fight-back, considering what we had to utilise,” Caruso told v8supercars.com.au.
“I’m really happy to be fighting for that top spot as a Nissan driver with Ricko again, it’s good.
“We’re talking about a driver who has won a Championship in the past, a dual Bathurst winner, so [he’s] pretty capable driver. Although he is my boss, it’s great we have that hunger to be the best in the team.”
Caruso is 153 points from the top 10 and 125 points from Kelly, who sits between Caruso and 10th placed Scott McLaughlin.
Last year, Caruso finished the Championship 10th and he and teammate James Moffat were consistently more competitive than the Kelly brothers running the other two Nissan Altimas. This time around, the results have been more evenly spread across the garages, with all four drivers scoring top five results this year.
“It’s one of the most difficult things these days, with four cars out of a 25 car field – to have them all inside the top 10 is never easy because as we know there’s some great packages out there from others teams and everyone wants to go out there and win,” Caruso said.
“So it has been good to have the boys next door go really strong this year.”
While the team has been secretive about the implementation of a new cylinder head, hailed as a positive step forward for the Nissan team, Caruso believes there have been gains for the group over recent events.
“I think any development in the engine always seems to help, so it’s always a positive … I think these days you can’t just work on one part, it’s the whole team. Try to improve every aspect of it, that’s what we’ve been working on.”
Caruso achieved a podium finish early in the year at Winton and featured up the front in qualifying in New Zealand on Sunday, finishing the session fifth and just 0.12 seconds off ARMOR ALL Pole Position. He crossed the line fifth at the end of the 200km race and believes the remaining rounds at Phillip Island and Homebush in Sydney should help cap a positive year.
“I think definitely Phillip Island has been a good track for me in the past – I love that track, it’s a pretty cool track to race on – they don’t get much better backdrops than at Phillip Island.
“Sydney is a special race for me given it’s my home town, so it’s nice to go strong there.
“I’ve been on the podium there once or twice – it’s always been a good way to finish off the year for me, so I’m looking forward to these last couple of events.”
While the team is focusing on finishing 2015 in the best possible fashion, there is some excitement about next year, particularly given the step forward the team has seen.
Moffat is departing to race a Volvo at Wilson Security GRM next year after three years alongside Caruso in the Nissan squad. While a replacement has not yet been announced, speculation is rife around Dale Wood taking the seat.
Caruso is looking forward to working with a new teammate and believes the Nissans will continue to push forward next season.
“It’ll be interesting – it’s been the same for three years, but I’m excited [to have] a new teammate and I know the team is excited to go to keep things on next year,” he said.
“Like I said before, the way things are going with the cars we’re hoping that we’ll be strong and competitive.”