Race engineering shake-up at Nissan Motorsport
Former champion Rick Kelly hopes that a new race engineer will help re-energise his V8 Supercars career.
Erik Pender, who has engineered Kelly’s entry since joining Nissan Motorsport for the 2013 season, has been shuffled out of the squad as part of a shake-up involving three of its four cars.
Now assigned to Kelly’s Altima is new recruit George Commins, who returns to the V8 Supercars paddock after a six-year stint in the United Kingdom.
Working for Double R (Formula 3), Williams F1 and Arden Motorsport (Formula Renault 3.5) while offshore, Commins’ earlier V8 Supercars experience featured a three-year spell at Dick Johnson Racing from 2006.
Todd Kelly and James Moffat will meanwhile switch engineers, with Perry Kapper moving to the latter’s entry and Nathan McColl now working with the team co-owner.
Rick Kelly describes ending his working relationship with the highly accomplished Pender as a tough decision.
Their alliance at Nissan reunited a partnership that yielded two Bathurst wins and a championship while at Walkinshaw Racing last decade.
“It’s a performance based sport and we weren’t getting the most out of the package,” Kelly told Speedcafe.com.
“Last year was the first since the inception of our team that I haven’t been at the front of the game as far as our cars were concerned.
“I was only 12 points off Michael at the end of the year, but they (Caruso and engineer Steven Todkill) did a much better job than we did and I don’t think I drove as well as Michael did, or as James on a lot of occasions.
“For me I put a lot of pressure on myself and if I don’t perform I don’t want to be in the car anymore.
“At the moment it’s at the point where I need to lift my game to say that I deserve that seat.
“We’ve made some changes to try and secure some better results and this will get me outside of my comfort zone, which I think is really important.
“I’ve been in this category for a long time and that brings with it some level of complacency that you just cannot afford to have.”
Kelly admits that his team’s on track struggles have taken their toll over recent seasons.
Having scooped the sport’s top prizes during the early stages of his career at Walkinshaw, the now 32-year-old has not won a race or finished in the championship’s top 10 since 2011.
“As everyone close to me knows, I don’t feel well if I’m not going well (on track),” he said.
“A top 10 or an eighth is great (for the team) but for me it’s not what I want from my career in motorsport.
“If I can’t within a year or two or three, get to a point where I can turn up (to the track) knowing I have a chance to win then I need to focus on another part of my career.”
The engineering shuffle comes as the team continues efforts to improve its package, with an off-season aerodynamic upgrade to be joined by a major engine development early in the coming campaign.
The team is also working hard to finalise sponsorship for all four of its entries, having lost two-car backer Norton following 2014.
Finishing with the team last Friday, Pender is meanwhile looking for new opportunities, most likely outside of the touring car category.
“You have to be on top of your game all the time and now if I’m honest, I can’t be as dedicated as I was years ago,” Pender told Speedcafe.com of V8 Supercars.
“It’s a very hard business and it just wears you out, particularly when you’re not winning.
“It’s an opportunity for me to look at some new things and get back to a more normal life. We’ll see what comes out of the woodwork.”
Pender, who also oversaw Nissan Motorsport’s dampers and communications as part of his role, expressed disappointment at not enjoying more success during his second stint with Kelly.
“I think on a personal level we still had the same connection, but the circumstances of the team were different,” he said.
“What worked back in the old days doesn’t necessarily now and maybe it was a bit naive to think we could just plug and play what worked years ago.”