The satisfaction and relief that came with team-mate Michael Caruso’s win and his own front-running pace has far outweighed Todd Kelly’s disappointment at being punted out of contention for his first victory since 2008 in Race 13 of the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship in Darwin.
From a team perspective the Nissan Motorsport co-owner was delighted by the consistent competitiveness of the Altimas across the CrownBet Darwin Triple Crown weekend, the first win since 2013 coming as negotiations for a contract renewal with the car manufacturer reach crunch point.
“I must admit I was quietly starting to get a bit edgy because we have had the potential to do it all year but we haven’t had all the pieces come together,” Kelly told supercars.com.
“I think the equipment has been there to get a win but it’s been a little bit elusive and with a few things up in the air like the renewal process we are going through with Nissan, it was a massive positive for the team. I understand the news has gone all around the globe within Nissan and everyone is pretty rapt so that’s great.”
From a personal perspective his first foray to the front of the grid in years also reinforced the 36-year old’s belief that he belongs on the Supercars grid.
“That showed me I should still be doing this for quite a while,” he said. “The mental side I handled it all no problem considering how long since I had last been in that situation.
“The time period kind of evaporated and it felt like it was the previous round.”
But after dropping to second in the pitlane bedlam during the first safety car period, Kelly was then bashed off the road at 260km/h by Mark Winterbottom’s The Bottle-O Ford Falcon FG X in the braking zone for turn one. He had to pit change his flat-spotted tyres and then spent the rest of the race fighting back to finish 13th.
“By the time I got out of the car I wasn’t that pissed off to be honest,” Kelly told supercars.com. “I was devastated and deflated at the time because I had flat spotted all the tyres trying to deal with the off.
“But once I got back out on the track and got back into the racing that presented itself I was fine.
“Knowing I was there with a great chance of a podium or a really good result king of overshadowed what had happened. Obviously I was annoyed with the fact I ended up where I did, but I was still pretty happy with the performance.
“I wasn’t ranting or raving or anything like that after the race.”
Kelly last qualified on the front row for a Supercars race at Hamilton in New Zealand in April 2011 alongside brother Rick when they were racing Jack Daniel’s Holden Commodores. He last won a race in Tasmania in 2008 driving for Larry Perkins.
But he said the years just slipped away once he was sitting in the car waiting for the green light.
“It was a bit strange starting on the front row. It would have been easy for me to put too much pressure on myself and try a bit too hard to get the result.
“After all the crews had cleared the grid I looked across at Shane van Gisbergen’s Red Bull car on pole and rather than getting all worked up and a little bit too nervous, a calmness came over me and I just thought about when I had had good front-row starts and wins back in the day around that place.
“Then I just put my head down and got a good start and got into the lead. I was even calm enough to put my finger on the radio button and tell the blokes I had got away well, even with the whole field behind me.”
While the race didn’t pan out for Kelly, he did finish seventh on Saturday behind winner Caruso, who had also started from the front row. The Nismo Altima driver added a sixth on Sunday to be the weekend’s top score. Rick Kelly also showed qualifying pace in the Sengled Nissan but was biffed off in both races. He runs ninth in the championship, while his brother is 13th.
“Michael drove a great race to record the team’s first win since 2013,” Kelly said. “It was really satisfying that he did it in such a solid way for Nissan and came at a perfect time for us.
“Saturday night talking it over in the truck with Rick I was really conscious of the importance of another strong performance on Sunday. When we won at Winton in 2013 the following day we couldn’t go close to backing it up so I said the big thing was to have a good Sunday to show we can be consistent.
“As it turned out that’s exactly what we were able to do and it was particularly satisfying for me that it was the carsales.com.au Altima flying the flag.”