Nissan ramping up development program

Rick Kelly took a drought-breaking podium in Race 9 at Phillip Island pic: Andy Pearson

Rick Kelly says that an acceleration in Nissan Motorsport’s development program is behind what he hopes is a sustained upsurge in form in the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship.

The 35-year-old bagged Nissan Motorsport’s first podium since 2016, and his first since all the way back to the 2015 Sydney 500, in the Saturday race of the most recent Supercars event, the WD-40 Phillip Island 500.

Kelly’s third placing on the Saturday became second when Jamie Whincup was penalised post-race, before the Castrol Racing Altima took the chequered flag third again on the Sunday.

Prior to Phillip Island, a Nissan had not finished higher than eighth, but Michael Caruso made it two Altimas in the top five in Race 10 of the season.

Caruso had also raced well a day earlier, starting on the back row after a technical problem in qualifying to finish 18th.

The results come early in the first season following brother and team co-owner Todd’s retirement from driving and the recruitment of former NASCAR engineer and aerodynamicist Nick Ollila, who has been bullish about Nissan’s development push.

Kelly believes that those efforts back at the workshop as well as Todd shouldering more of the business workload is the reason for upswing in form.

Todd Kelly pic: Andy Pearson

“I think Todd’s certainly helped in the last probably 18 months to take on more business and allow me to get back to a little bit more driving in preparation for the transition that we’ve seen over the last six months,” he said on Fox Sports’ Supercars Trackside.

“But we’ve put a lot more development items on the car at every single event this year than we did through the whole of last year.

“There’s been a lot more go on there, a lot of work from Todd and all the guys back at the workshop, and you can bolt something on and you don’t really see the performance gain until you understand it properly and change a few other things around the car to make that one item work.

“We’ve done that a lot and found some really good pace, but I don’t think it’s going to be every weekend.

“We still need to find that consistency and we’ll see how we go here.”

Ironically, the development effort comes amid uncertainty over Nissan’s ongoing support of the team and the future of the Altima package.

Kelly again remained non-committal about when the Japanese marque might make a decision about its place in Supercars.

Questions about Nissan, including the possible move to the GT-R, have become more frequent again since Ford showed its own hand just over a fortnight ago in announcing that it would support the development of the Mustang for Supercars.

“I don’t think there is a cut-off date,” he said.

“Obviously they’re working very, very hard on everything that the manufacturer does and we’re very busy doing what you saw last weekend (Phillip Island), trying to make the cars faster and faster, and that will remain our focus.”

Practice 1 for the fifth event of the 2018 Supercars Championship starts today at 1105 local time/1305 AEST.

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