Nissan has unveiled the four-car V8 Supercar squad that marks its return to Australian motorsport 21 years after the Japanese brand was booed off the podium at Bathurst.
In 1992 race drivers Mark Skaife and Jim Richards had been awarded the win in their “Godzilla” GTR despite crashing out in torrential rain which had stopped the race.
But Nissan is hoping for a clear run this time around thanks to a level playing field. New rules means that all cars on the V8 Supercar grid in 2013 will be identical but for the engines, which in Nissan’s case comes from its new Patrol 4WD.
“I have three to words to say: Nissan is back,” the boss of Nissan Australia William F Peffer said at the launch of the new Kelly Racing Team at Melbourne’s Flemington race course today. “We’re in combat colours ready for battle.”
Nissan’s return to the sport is a further sign of how serious it is at becoming Australia’s top-selling import-only car brand, two decades after it ended local vehicle manufacturing. Nissan had all-time record sales last year and in January was just 500 sales behind Ford and is closing-in fast. Nissan has reversed the old adage of ‘win on Sunday, sell on Monday’ by taking the showroom battle onto the race track.
“Why are we here? First and foremost we are competitive car company. It’s in our DNA,” says Peffer. “We’ve long been competitive in the business arena ... and we have no intention of slowing down.” The V8 Supercar program is about elevating Nissan’s profile among a broader range of buyers. The Altima road car – a V6 front-drive sedan even though the race car is a rear-drive V8 – is still almost a year away from arriving in showrooms.
Lead driver Todd Kelly stopped short of guaranteeing a race win but said the team had the best chance yet after several disappointing seasons: “All the ingredients are there for a successful year. We just can’t wait to get out there and race them as fast as we can.”
His brother Rick Kelly said: “Everyone thinks they’re doing great lap times [in testing] but we’re not going to really know until we get to Eastern Creek next weekend and Clipsal 500 in Adelaide [in a few weeks].”
Rick Kelly said the race team had been working overtime. “This is a proud moment for all of us. This is the biggest milestone for our team. The guys have been working incredibly hard to get them ready in time for this season. I’ve not seen anything like it in my while career in motorsport.”
James Moffatt, the son of racing legend Allan Moffatt, and who was just four months old when Nissan scored its first pole position in 1984, said: “It’s a fantastic opportunity. [My teammates] have all won races in the championship, but hopefully this year that will be a box that I will tick. I remember vividly as a kid watching the 1992 race when Nissan crashed out. Full credit to Nissan for coming back.”
New signing Michael Caruso said: “It’s a pretty special moment in my career. One of the dreams as a driver is to be a part of a manufacturer team. We’ll be banging doors from the get-go.”
This reporter is on Twitter: @JoshuaDowling