With a break between Winton and Darwin, supercars.com is analysing the drivers’ results and performances in this first part of the season. The racing is the closest in history, with nine different winners in 11 races.
Michael Caruso, Nissan Motorsport Engineer: Steven Todkill Average qualifying position: 13.5 Average finishing position: 11.4 Championship position: 10 Points to leader: 300 Wins: 0 Pole positions: 0
Best result: Clipsal 500
Led the championship after a strong weekend, including second in the rain
Low point: Perth Saturday getting bogged in qualifying, started and finished 26th
For: Like his Nissan Motorsport team-mates Caruso has only been able to show his undoubted speed on limited occasions in the past because of the Nissan Altima’s much documented development issues.
But with the Altima consistently top 10 competitive, his year started strongly with the championship lead after the Clipsal 500, on the back of a great drive to second place in Sunday’s rain.
Commendably, said all the right things about that afterwards, acknowledging Nissan’s historical place in Australian touring car racing.
Since then he has been engaged in a heated battle with Rick Kelly for top dog status in the Nissan operation. Right now Rick gets the nod, but it’s a gripping battle.
Against: Caruso’s championship push only lasted as far as Perth, where he parked the Altima in the sand trap in Saturday qualifying, sending him to the back of the grid for the opening race.
Since then has been salvaged some good results from poor qualifying and not been really able to capitalise on good qualifying efforts.
His best day came on Sunday at Phillip Island when he qualified 10th and finished sixth.
Caruso will be as conscious as anyone the next six months’ shape as defining for his future, as his contract is up at the end of this year.
The next event at Darwin, where he claimed the sole win of his Supercars career so far when he was driving for GRM, shapes as a great place to show his stuff.
The team: Caruso’s relationship with engineer Steven Todkill is now one of the most enduring in pitlane and they have ridden many highs and lows together.
The car is better, the team is improving, so the signs are promising.
The summer departure of the team’s tech chief Craig Spencer back to F1 and the splitting of his responsibilities between Perry Kapper (engineering manager) and Neil Price (crew chief) appears to have gone smoothly.
However, Kapper is going to have to engineer Todd Kelly’s car while a replacement is found for Jesse Walker, who left suddenly after Winton for a job in the automotive industry in California. Will Kapper’s added workload have an impact?