BRAESIDE, Victoria, Australia – Welcome back to Race Chaser Online’s 2017 Virgin Australia Supercars Championship season previews! We continue today with a look at one-half of the operations at Nissan Motorsport.
DRIVERS: No. 23 – Michael Caruso, Team NISMO Nissan Altima
No. 78 – Simona de Silvestro, Harvey Norman Nissan Altima
2016 TEAM POINTS FINISH: 8th
2016 HIGHEST RACE FINISH: Michael’s win in the opening race at Hidden Valley
Things have changed a lot in the last five months at Nissan Motorsport, arguably more so than at any other team in the Supercars grid. And no team finds itself in a completely different and opposite end of the spectrum the way that Nissan Motorsport does.
In the early days of September last year, the team was hanging on the results of a board meeting “set to discuss the future of Nissan’s involvement in Supercars”. Thankfully, the Nissan brass green-lit two more seasons of factory support.
With the relief that they didn’t have to switch manufacturers, team owners Todd and Rick Kelly immediately turned around and put together a wildcard entry for Swiss driver Simona de Silvestro and Renee Gracie to run in the Bathurst 1000. The Harvey Norman “Supergirls”, as the car came to be called over the weekend, turned in a respectable 14th-place finish in the event.
Though Supercars executives were the ones to originally sign de Silvestro to the series, she decided to stick with the Nissan Motorsport team for 2017. In the process, the team made the most notable driver acquisition of the entire field.
De Silvestro will become the first female in nineteen seasons to compete full-time in the Supercars championship, and this will be the first of three years in her contract. Harvey Norman returns as the sponsor on the car as well, also for the full Supercars season.
Michael Caruso takes the other seat in this half of the Nissan Motorsport shop as he returns to the No. 23 with backing from Nissan itself.
Expectations for both should be high, because there are more staff and more data to work with for this team than in any of their previous four seasons with Nissan.
Six new engineers entered the team in the offseason, and they also signed a technical alliance with MW Motorsport in the Dunlop Super2 series. The extra personnel and data should help the Nissans figure out how to be quick in a much shorter amount of time.
Coming into 2017, both drivers in this pit boom should be optimistic. Caruso’s season was very strong by every metric: he posted a career-best average finish of 10.9 and won a race for the first time in seven seasons. He will expect more of the same in the upcoming season.
As for Silvestro, her expectations are harder to pinpoint, but only because of her comparative lack of seat time compared to the rest of the grid. But the best indicator of her performance level, outside of her runs at Bathurst, comes from her prior experience: she has run in various forms of motorsport throughout her lifetime, most notably in IndyCar and Formula E.
She was competitive in both of those series once she became acclimated to them. It may take her some time to adjust to the full-body nature of a Supercar, but her pedigree is evidence that she has the talent and the ability to figure this series out just the same.
For more information on Nissan Motorsport, visit www.nissanmotorsport.com.au.
For more information on the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship, visit www.supercars.com.
About the Writer
James Pike is a multi-faceted reporter for Race Chaser Online and an analyst on the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network.
He is the lead correspondent for Race Chaser Online’s coverage of Australian Supercars and also covers regional touring series events in the Carolinas. He is a graduate of the Motorsports Management program at Belmont Abbey College and currently resides in Winston-Salem, N.C.
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