If you want to see some attacking driving across the top of the mountain at the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000, watch out for the Nissan Altimas.
That’s the tip from Jack Daniel’s driver Todd Kelly, who says the eight Nissan drivers will have to utilise the outstanding handling of their four V8 Supercars to compensate for the horsepower deficit they will be hampered by up and down the mountain.
The immensity of the challenge facing the Nissans was underlined to Kelly at the Wilson Security Sandown 500, where he rated an 11th place finish – and first Altima – with co-driver David Russell as good as a podium after giving up about half a dozen spots on the Melbourne circuit's long straights.
According to V8 Supercars calculations, the Nissans also spent almost 20 seconds extra in pitlane refuelling compared to the rival and Holden and Ford V8s because the multi-valve Nissan VK56DE engine is thirstier than the pushrod V8s that power the Falcons and Commodores.
The new Mercedes-Benz E63 AMGs of Erebus Motorsport V8 have a similar fuel consumption issue to the Nissans, but appear to have overcome much of their power issues.
“Bathurst is almost the exact same scenario as Sandown,” said Kelly, who is also a co-owner and technical boss of Nissan Motorsport. “You have two groups of corners with a drag strip in between each.
“The key for us will be from The Cutting to make sure we make as much gap as we can by the time we get to Forrest’s Elbow to make sure we are not vulnerable.
“And then the same effort through the last few corners and on to Mountain Straight. Those areas are critical.”
Kelly said he and Russell, along with the three other factory Nissan Motorsport driving crews, will have to counter their aggression and speed across the top with a willingness to accept the inevitable on Mount Panorama’s long straights.
It was very much the attitude they adopted at Sandown, he said.
“If they (other cars) have that much speed on you then you really need to get your head around the fact that, that is how it is, accept it and not let it wind you up.
“In a sprint race where you are doing a qualifying lap every lap and every position counts your mindset is different.
“In all, considering the circumstances we had, 11th (at Sandown) was as good as the podium as far as trying to wring everything out of the car and the race as we could. So I am reasonably happy with 11th, which is something I never thought I would say.”
Get it right and Kelly says the Nissans just might nudge the top 10 at the end of the 1000km classic.
“It would be a pretty big ask to rock up there with the expectation of a podium or a top five,” he admitted. “I think a lot of stuff would have to go our way.
“If we could nudge into the top 10 that would be a realistic goal and that would be through the same mindset as we had at Sandown – survival, being sensible and not making any mistakes at all, which a lot of teams did locking brakes, incurring drive throughs or spearing off the track.
“Making sure we don’t do any of that will help us pick up one, two or three spots through the race and put us up there at the end.”
Kelly said the power deficit of the Nissan engine had prompted the team to work very hard on eking the best handling from the Nissan chassis, something he was confident would help at Bathurst.
“All year we have been engineering the cars and focussing on that a lot more on that than ever – putting a lot of emphasis on specific corners and making sure we get them right so we are as competitive as we can be in a race situation.
“At Bathurst if we don’t get that right it will certainly be a tough day. If we do get it right it will be a little more manageable, but certainly will still be a pretty tough weekend for us.
But I can’t wait to get there and see what these cars can actually do. Hopefully it won’t be as bad as what we are expecting.”