Despite a strong record at the team’s Winton test track and finishing only 1.7sec behind the winner in the most recent Virgin Australia Supercars Championship race in Perth, Nissan Motorsport star Rick Kelly is keeping a lid on expectations of a win in the upcoming Woodstock Winton SuperSprint.
Kelly, who starts his 200th V8 Supercars round at Winton, believes the recent resurfacing of the 3.0km Victorian circuit means the form guide is potentially irrelevant heading into the May 20-22 event.
The 2006 drivers’ champion is not even prepared to concede the Nissan team has gained an advantage because it has twice tested at the venue since the resurfacing, most recently along with the Holden Racing Team, Wilson Security GRM and Preston Hire Racing only weeks ago.
“I think it’s going to be a pretty big unknown,” the Sengled Nissan Altima driver told v8supercars.com. “It is very grippy and the car feels really nice around there but that doesn’t mean you are necessarily going to be at the front.
“It’s important even if you do test there and you have driven on that surface to attack the actual race weekend with a very open mind and adapt to the conditions on the day.”
The Kelly family-owned factory-backed team broke through for its first and only win so far in 2013, when now-departed James Moffat led Michael Caruso home in an Altima 1-2 at Winton in 2013.
Last year the team recorded seven top 10 finishes across four cars in three races at Winton, with Kelly doing best of all by claiming second in one of the Saturday afternoon 60km sprints.
Since then there has been a significant engine development program and Rick Kelly and brother Todd sandwich Caruso in ninth, 10th and 11th in the drivers’ championship following the Western Australian outing. The team’s fourth driver, Dale Wood, is 24th after a difficult start to the season.
“People are saying ‘Winton’s where Nissan got its first win and you got second there last year … you are going to go really well’. But if we turn up and don’t quite get that set-up right we are going to struggle.
“What I don’t want to do is focus on the result. We have got to focus on the process of getting that result first. After we win then we can talk about the result. But until that time it’s about the process."
Kelly starred at Barbagallo in the 200km Sunday outing, qualifying seventh and finishing fifth, but running as high as second place and holding off championship leader Craig Lowndes’ TeamVortex Holden Commodore VF.
He finished in sight of winner Mark Winterbottom and his Prodrive Falcon after 200km of hard racing. He admitted he found the result both motivating and frustrating.
“To have a fully green race and finish 1.7 seconds off the race win… I mean to look at it that way we were unlucky to finish fifth,” Kelly said.
“You would expect a 20 second gap in a race that long between pits stops and passing cars and everything else. On that day we were right there, but unfortunately we finished fifth.
“We have to go back through earlier in the chain to work out how we could have been higher … You leave that race going ‘we were right there’ but you also leave that race going ‘how could I have been two seconds further up the road at the chequered flag?’”
The big positive the 2006 V8 Supercars champion is taking from the team’s WA results is they act as further evidence Nissan Motorsport is clawing its way to the front of the field.
In total there were four top 10 finishes between the four Nissans, with Rick finishing ninth on Saturday and Todd seventh. Caruso scored a ninth on Sunday after a fraught Saturday that saw him start and finish the 120km race 26th and last.
“We are in the position with our team where we are moving in an exciting direction and if you look up and down pitlane there are not many teams that can say that right now,” Kelly said.
“There are teams that have been around that are moving backwards and there are teams that are stationary. For us we need to very careful of where we are at and where we are going so we maintain ourselves as an emerging front-runner.”
Kelly said strategies would be totally different at Winton compared to Western Australia because tyre degradation would be low rather than high. The new surface should also produce good racing, he predicted.
“A track with that much grip offers you a lot of confidence so you might be half keen to put your car in a position you wouldn’t normally, so we just have to see what it opens up on the weekend.
“Hopefully the grip is high enough that we will be able to run side-by-side in a few places and create good racing that way.
“It’s a very different circuit to what it was and I think that’s great. It’s always like this when the category goes to a new track surface. It is unpredictable.”