I can’t think of an appropriate word to describe how stoked I am for the Clipsal 500 next weekend. It feels like an age since Sydney and with all the upheaval over the winter break it somewhat feels like the start of a whole new era of V8SC, and that’s even before Gen2 begins in 2017! For reasons largely understood, I think most of the motorsport worlds focus has been on the first week of F1 testing this past five days, however with Clipsal fast approaching, and a marathon season just about to begin my attention turns back to V8SC and Nissan Motorsport.
Nissan made real progress towards the end of last season, and I sure hope they can continue where they left off when the season kicks off in Adelaide. However, I do have one niggling little doubt on my mind when it comes to Nissan, and it’s something which has been cropping up in my mind more than a few times as I’ve sat there thinking about the 2016 V8SC season, and that’s the drivers. Do Nissan really have the driver lineup they need to make them a success this season? However good the Altima is. Now, don’t get me wrong, what Nissan have done since they arrived in 2013 is fantastic and as a brand you can only admire their commitment to motorsport however, unless they make a significant investment in their driver lineup I’m not sure how much more they’re going to get out of V8 Supercars.
Before I go on, I do just want to state how much respect I do have for Rick and Todd Kelly, Michael Caruso and Dale Wood. Obviously all four of Nissan’s drivers are extremely talented and I’m in no way suggesting that they do not deserve their place on grid! They’re quite clearly better racing drivers than I will ever be so the following paragraphs are in no way intended to dampen their achievements.
Now, with that disclaimer out the way, I honestly don’t think Nissan’s driver lineup, barring Rick Kelly (and maybe Michael Caruso) is good enough to bring them the consistent results they need, and I fear that with Nissan’s decision on whether they continue in V8SC fast approaching, this could stand against Kelly Racing and Co. I mean, we only have to take last year as an example to get an idea of what I’m getting at here. Rick Kelly was the only Nissan driver to finish inside the championships top ten scoring a respectable four podiums en route to ninth place. Caruso followed Kelly in 12th place, but then we have to go all the way down to 17th and 18th to find Todd Kelly and Moffat. For a factory team and what is going to be their fourth season, I can’t see Nissan continuing to accept those kind of results as sufficient.
I’m not slating Nissan or anything here, because I do honestly think they are a fantastic team, who are certainly an asset to V8SC, the series would certainly be a poorer place without them. However it appears to me at least, that they’re somewhat shooting themselves in the foot a bit when it comes to selecting drivers. It would have been nice to see them take a punt on someone like Reynolds, or even have a go at nabbing Cam Waters from PRA (I know some of these might not be feasible, they’re just suggestions). Or what about trying to sign the likes of Percat from LDM or Davison before he moved from Erebus to Tekno? These kind of moves would represent a positive step in the right direction for Nissan, an active change to improve their chances of podiums. However good the Altima has become, and it certainly is a good car now, as Rick Kelly has demonstrated. Unless you have the drivers in the car to pick up results, valuable points are still going to go the way of their rivals.
Nissan’s four drivers for 2016 had an average finishing position of 14th/15th place last year, and for factory team whose future somewhat still “hangs in the balance”, I honestly don’t think that’s going to be good enough. I hope I’m wrong, I really do.
Anyway! I’ve laid my concerns about drivers on the table, so back to Nissan’s chances in 2016. It’s nice to see Nissan get some solid sponsorship over at least three of their cars, especially after the departure of long time partner Jack Daniels, and I do have to say, Caruso’s NISMO car does look great also! The Altima was a genuinely competitive car come the end of last year, and in the hands of Rick Kelly at least, Nissan should be consistently qualifying and finishing well within the top ten.
It’ll be interesting to see if Dale Wood fares any better in the Altima than he did on his way to 20th place in the Commodore last season. 2016 is a massive year for Nissan, and I think Wood, and indeed everyone is going to be under massive pressure to bag big points right from round one. I don’t think Nissan can afford to give Wood, or any of their drivers a settling down period, like HRT, 2016 is crucial to their continuation as a factory team.
After everything has been said and done, I really do hope Nissan can pull everything together and have a strong season, it would be a just reward for their fans, and the board back in Japan who have stuck by them after three difficult seasons. Bringing a new car, and engine into an already competitive series is by no means an easy task at all, and I don’t think anyone expected miracles for Nissan straight away. However, entering their fourth season, we surely must be approaching a critical point. There’s no chance, in the current economic climate (especially in Japan) that Nissan will continue to throw hundreds of thousands of dollars at a project which isn’t producing results. I know Nissan Australia said that V8SC isn’t just about winning, it’s also about brand loyalty. And I think that’s true, to an extent. But it’s clear for all to see that that there needs to be an improvement from Nissan in 2016, and I’m sure I’m not alone in hoping there is.