The BMW i Andretti Motorsport team had a Saturday to forget in Marrakesh, with both drivers giving away the chance of a 1-2 victory as they locked up and sent each other off the track.
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Despite there being slim hope of renewal, the inevitable has been realised and Nissan will withdraw its support from Kelly Racing and the Supercars championship, at the conclusion of the 2018 season.
In an announcement made by Nissan Australia’s Managing Director in Stephen Lester yesterday, the demise of the Japanese marque’s manufacturer presence in the touring car series has been confirmed.
“Nissan has decided to exit the Supercars Championship in order to concentrate on the interests and needs of our current and future customers,” said Lester.
“We have obviously been talking to the Kellys for some time and making the announcement now suits both parties.
“I’d like to thank Todd and Rick Kelly, Michael Caruso, Simona de Silvestro and everyone at Nissan Motorsport for all of their hard work in the time that Nissan Australia has been involved in Supercars.”
Having been the first manufacturer to commit to the then new ‘Car of the Future’ regulations ahead of the watershed 2013 season, Nissan has had a relatively low rate of success in the competitive touring car category with their Altima sedan.
A paltry four wins is the only yield across their six-year tenure, with the last triumph having come almost two-years ago at Hidden Valley in the hands of Nissan stalwart Michael Caruso. The Braeside operation collection a pair of podiums at the Phillip Island round of the 2018 championship, with team owner Rick Kelly having validated the progress made on the perennial engine deficiencies.
Though as encouraging at Kelly’s performance was at Phillip Island, on the weekend he also celebrated his 500th Supercars race-start, the four-car stable wasn’t spared from the axe of their manufacturer.
Poor sales of the Altima road car is said to also have been the reason for Nissan’s decision to withdraw support from its racing programme in Australia, with the sedan itself taken off the new-car market locally.
Nissan have also quashed discussion over whether there was consideration for their flagship GT-R sportscar to be homologated for Supercars, citing that there would be no logic in having a hundred-plus thousand-dollar car go up against models which are meant to be affordable for the average car owner.
The disappointment in this outcome does lie within the fact that Ford has recently re-joined the category, having announced that they’d be bringing their flagship Mustang to Supercars, as well as recommitting itself as a manufacturer.
General Motors along with HSV are now too, assessing the feasibility of running a Chevrolet Camaro as a rival to the Mustang – alongside the existing Holden ZB Commodore. All this positive engagement had given some hope that Nissan would be tempted to renew their presence, however that is not the case now.
For the Kellys heading into 2019, they will at least retain their Altimas and have stated that their ongoing development will continue despite the lack of manufacturer backing. Their four cars in the main-game will race on, as well as the three cars they support in the Super2 feeder series for MW Motorsport.
It will be a situation similar to what Ford teams in Tickford and DJR Team Penske found themselves in, following the Blue Oval’s departure at the end of 2014. Both teams enjoyed a successful period with Tickford having won a driver’s championship in 2015 and DJRTP claimed a team’s title in 2017 – as well as contributing to the manufacturer’s crown in the same season.
Though there is the other side of that spectrum, which is reflected in the tumultuous three-year period in which Erebus Motorsport had run the Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG, with no support at all from the Silver Arrows – making development of that unique car near-impossible.
As disappointing as this decision from Nissan’s brass is, there is hardly much to be surprised about considering what the Japanese marque has achieved in this latest tenure in Australian touring cars. The door is open for Nissan to return, though for Kelly Racing it is going to be a tough period ahead – with their Altima soon to be a fossil compared to the Mustang and ZB Commodore.