Townsville to serve as barometer for Nissan upturn
Todd Kelly expects this weekend’s Watpac Townsville 400 to provide Nissan Motorsport with a true indicator of their progress this season.
The Braeside operation has emerged as one of the surprise packages in the first half of the campaign with its Altimas offering a significant improvement at most circuits compared to last year.
Nissan is so far reaping the rewards from extensive development being carried out across the four car squad that has seen the outfit regularly challenge the top 10 in qualifying and races.
Rick Kelly has led the way by scoring a victory (Winton), a pole position (Darwin) and a further two podium finishes at Phillip Island.
While the Altima has markedly improved this year, Townsville’s Reid Park circuit is expected to highlight how far the team has progressed.
The 2.86km track has proved difficult to master for the Altima which hasn’t scored a top six finish in the six visits following the car’s championship debut in 2013.
“(We are) a little bit more optimistic. It is one of our more challenging circuits,” Nissan Motorsport co-owner Todd Kelly told Speedcafe.com.
“We know areas of that circuit creates challenges for us and we know we have improved the car.
“It is just a matter of how much that is in relation to the others.
“We are really looking forward to getting there and seeing where we are at.
“If we go really well that is fantastic, but if we don’t that is also good as it will highlight where we need to shift our focus because there are a lot of aspects to that track that are similar to a lot of other circuits we have still got to go to this season.
“Either way it will be a good learning weekend for us.
“Phillip Island was a real testament to where the cars are.
“It still comes down to nailing the set up when the cars come out of the truck.
“You can still put a good car in 15th position really easily as we have seen with a lot of the top teams. It is a tough game out there. We have been able to get a bit of momentum so far.”
Nissan has been focussing on improving its race pace following the CrownBet Darwin Triple Crown after it was unable to capitalise on an impressive pole position.
“We (have been) hard at work at the little bits on the Darwin weekend that didn’t quite come together,” added Kelly.
“It was only just a whisker here and there that took us away from result there.
“The raw car speed was deserving of a podium but the race didn’t pan out to enable that.
“It is just getting everything spot on. The engine economy and the time in pit lane is as much of a race as anything.
“If you lose half a second or a second in the pit stop that can quite easily equate to a spot on the track. It is impossible to pass in a lot of places now so it is so critical.”
The Watpac Townsville 400 will begin on Friday with opening practice set to start at 1125 AEST.