Driver and team co-owner Rick Kelly sees Nissan on track for success in 2016 with progress last season and the right people in place behind the scenes.
But he won’t be making any bold predictions about results, preferring to leave that to another former V8 Supercars champion known for colourful performances and comments entering the season.
“I’m certainly not going to sit here and say we’ll win Clipsal and win the Championship – that’s James Courtney’s statement he rolls out every year,” Kelly told media at Nissan’s 2016 launch at Phillip Island.
“We’re not going to do that one – what we’ll say is where we will improve on last year.
“We’ve put in every bit of resource and effort we can possibly find to achieve exactly that.”
Having won the Clipsal 500 for the past two years, 2010 champ Courtney has declared his Holden Racing Team ‘back’ and ready to battle each time, but ultimately he and teammate Garth Tander have not been in the fight come December.
While HRT is downsizing to focus on two cars, four-car team Nissan is ready to pounce, with Kelly having taken four podiums and an ARMOR ALL Pole Position last year.
He stopped short of declaring victory was on the cards for the manufacturer, but after a third place finish in last year’s race, his excitement for 2016 was palpable. Nissan’s only race win in the ‘car of the future’ era was at Winton in 2013 with James Moffat behind the wheel.
“I think in this category if you can finish on the podium, you can win a race.
“And for us, we’ve been in that position before so it’s certainly not new.
“But it comes down to the team you’ve got around you working well, as well as the equipment,” he said.
“We know the equipment is moving in a positive direction but the exciting thing for us is the group of people we’ve got … over the last seven years, I think that’s the one thing Todd [Kelly, brother and co-owner] and I have learned is having the right morale in the business is key.”
Kelly was the best performer for the manufacturer of four drivers last year, and
this is the best position the team has ever been in starting season – given the progress last year, over the break and because there was no aerodynamic testing during the off-season as there has been in previous years.
Nissan managing director and CEO Richard Emery addressed media and spoke of winning being in the brand’s DNA – however Kelly said that didn’t add any extra pressure.
“There’s no more pressure from Nissan than there is from ourselves on ourselves,” he said.
“These guys [Nissan] are there to get results, but so are we.
“It’s not abnormal for us to be in this situation – and we have started our own team from the ground up to achieve success, not just to have a team or go racing. Racing is a fantastic part of our job, but we’re in this to be able to get our team to the front and this year is a stepping stone for us to be able to do that.”
Kelly believes the days of one dominant manufacturer are gone – it’s more about which team does the best job.
“You saw Prodrive come out strong at the start of the year – the team did a great job, they were winning everything – by the end of the year it wasn’t that way anymore. That’s, I guess, looking after the eggs they had in their basket – championship points – and other teams emerge.
“For us, that’s been our focus to be that next team that emerges.
“How competitive we’ll be for the start of the season – well, I think we’re in a better position than we have been in any other year, like I said. But we can’t rest on that.
“I’m sure everyone else over that break has been working very hard on some of their shortcomings – whether that’s chassis, pit stops, engines, who knows.”
He’s excited to head to the season opener and see the landscape for 2016, and along with the team is working to get a new sponsor on his Nissan Altima.
“It’s always exciting to head to Clipsal to see where everyone sits – we’ve seen a lot of driver changes, we’ve had one in our team.
“A lot of other teams [have had] a lot of staff changes – in the well performing teams as well – and it sounds like a small thing but you change half a dozen mechanics and you get good ones in – they may well be good but it takes time for them to settle into the tem and the way of doing things.
“So we’re heading into the season really consistent on that side of things and in a really good place.
“I’m not going to guess a level of competitiveness but I’m certainly looking forward to it.”