To put it nicely, Nissan have not had a good time of it since they re-entered the V8 Supercars Championship in 2013, only recording three top-ten championship finishes out of 16 individual entries.
The team have never contested at the pointy end of affairs for a championship, have won just one round in their existence, and had very little in the way of driving at the front of the field.
2016 promised more for the Nissan team, but they came away with just a single race win through Michael Caruso, never qualified on pole and more often than not struggled through reliability issues with the car and simply not having the pace to go with the leaders. They often found themselves at the rear of the grid on race day, unable to recover after poor qualifying performances.
Nissan have a proud history in the Supercars category, with the glory days of the 1990s seeing legends Jim Richards and Mark Skaife drive for the factory team under the leadership of legend Fred Gibson.
To see them struggle through their return to the category is tough to watch for motorsport fans, but the questions are starting to be asked about whether it will all turn around in 2017.
The experience of Rick and Todd Kelly has been good since they formed Kelly Motorsport in 2009, moving away from the top teams in the category – with Todd racing for Walkinshaw Racing as the factory Holden team up to that point – should give them an edge this season.
With changes galore in the category, experienced drivers are expected to rise to the fore and we can bank on that happening through experience.
Jason Bright, who has been in the Supercars Championship for as long as anyone can remember (ok not really – 1997) has risen to the top during the two biggest changes the category has seen in his career.
I know exactly what you’re thinking – “but Jason Bright doesn’t drive for Nissan.” I know, but he has said this year’s changes are bigger than the change from 17 to 18-inch wheels and the change to next-generation cars in 2013.
“With the introduction of Car of the Future (Next Generation chassis), we went to the 18″ wheel.
“But this is quite a big change for the category for a whole new construction tyre.
“It’s probably the biggest change in tyres we’ve had, even when we went to the 18”.”
While Bright was driving for Brad Jones Racing, he had a strong season in 2013 and the Kelly brothers, both of whom have been driving for more than a decade in the main game, will be looking to do something similar this time around.
Nissan have made their desire clear over the off-season to adapt to the new tyre changes for 2017 better than they adopted to the next generation cars and anything since changing to the Nissan brand, really, and want to be first to the front of the pack.
Getting Simona De Silvestro on board in the stable’s fourth entry can only be positive as well, with her experience driving around the world likely to prove valuable to team development.
While Triple Eight are still expected to be at the top of the category, Rick Kelly sprung a surprise in the first day of testing at Sydney Motorsport Park on Tuesday, handling the new tyres and car setup with ease to cruise to the top fo the time charts.
With the cars expected to be faster all around this season, it could suit Nissan as they aim for a completely new setup, scrapping most things that simply didn’t work for them last year.
Kelly said the testing day was impressive to come out with the fastest time, but there is still plenty of work to do.
“We did a lot of running on the new tyre today and feel that Dunlop has done a great job,” Kelly told Supercars.com.
“It (setting the fastest time) gives us good confidence because we had some work to do when we left this track late last year.
“On the old tyre, teams like Red Bull had a great handle on it, but we want to be the team that gets a handle on this tyre quicker than others.
“We need to go over everything we’ve learnt today and come out swinging in Adelaide.”
For Nissan, getting a strong start to the season is pivotal. Another slow start will see them slump to the bottom and based on the way the team’s results and development have gone over the last three seasons, things would look unlikely to change.
While racing in Adelaide will be a completely different beast and testing days are not the greatest judges of a season to come, the practice record that was set by Prodrive’s Chaz Mostert last year was almost broken by Kelly and they are now confident to put in a good performance at the Clipsal 500.
Nissan mightn’t have the prior results to show they are going to do anything special in 2017, and the rise of the team might take a couple of years, but they are out to show they aren’t here to just make up the numbers and Tuesday’s test proves that.
Watch this space on the Nissan team in 2017. It could be one of the storylines of the season if they get it right from the word go.