Time is the enemy as the anointed Nissan team for the 2013 V8 Supercars series, Kelly Racing, works feverishly to get four Altima lookalike cars on the grid for next year’s opening race, the Clipsal 500. The pressure is on to quickly lock in the technical specifications for the entry of the Japanese brand into the category. Nissan will be the long-awaited third brand in the series, which, since its inception in the early 1990s, has been a simple Holden versus Ford formula which flourished for many years but recently has been showing its age.
Go back a few seasons and V8SA was demanding a pile of money from the likes of Mitsubishi and Toyota to join the series. Today there are inducements for interested brands. V8 Supercars Australia is hoping desperately Nissan’s arrival will give the series the required fillip. Certainly there is considerable interest in the campaign by the Japanese manufacturer, once a stalwart in the Australian Touring Car Championship (until forced out 20 years ago by V8 Supercars’ two-make rule).
The Kelly gang’s contribution is hugely impressive. From Australia’s biggest, flashiest race facility in Braeside, Melbourne, a 60-strong Kelly Racing workforce has been toiling (initially in secret) to develop a five-litre engine while adapting an Altima body to the general-issue 2013 Car of the Year chassis. Nineteen departments at Kelly Racing contribute to the creation of the Nissan Altima V8 Supercar. Just about everything, bar some technical assistance from Nismo Japan, is done in-house. Todd Kelly, a co-owner of the team with his brother Rick, described Tuesday’s engine unveiling as his ”proudest moment in 15 years as a race car driver”.
Nissan has been keenly pushing the point that its five-litre VK56DE alloy quad-cam 32-valve V8 is technically superior to the rival push-rod engines in the Fords and Holdens. It’s also about 15 kilos lighter, though this will be addressed with lead ballast. But in a series of barely disguised four-wheeled socialism, all cars are supposed to be equal in performance. The headache for the V8 supercars’ parity committee is to get the Nissan V8 to produce power curves close (within 1 to 2 per cent) of those of the Holden and Ford V8s. The parity process starts in earnest in a matter of days when a prototype Nissan race engine is handed to V8SA, starting a process of trial and error. ”We may have to tune back torque and chase top-end horsepower,” Todd Kelly suggested. ”We’ve complied with every single engine rule applying to the Ford and the Holden, other than having four camshafts instead of two.”
At the same time, V8SA has to conduct aerodynamic testing on the Altima body, which the Kellys agree is sleeker than the Commodore and Falcon Car of the Future shapes. Kelly says the team has built some drag into the Altima race car’s bumper and side skirts and even raised the body a little to make it less slippery at speed. On-track aerodynamic testing will decide the ultimate body package for the Nissan.
With 14 Nissan V8 race engines and four Nissan V8 Supercars needed to be goers by February, Kelly concedes there isn’t any time for hiccups, and that the team needs to condense two years’ worth of work into six months. Decisions need to be made on drivers too, with Kelly indicating he has been inundated with calls from would-be Nissan speedsters from other teams. Kelly is confident even diehard V8 fans will welcome the Nissans next year, and there will be no repeat of the booing that marred the brand’s last Bathurst 1000 triumph in 1992.
An estimated $25 million has been ploughed into the facility, and that’s before the race budget is tossed in.
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