The Supercars season of endurance is upon us, with the opening round of the PIRTEK Enduro Cup having just been run and won at Sandown. It ended in a one-two-three for Holden, but with a surprise winner in the Holden Racing Team with Garth Tander and Warren Luff – in an unexpected return to form for the HRT and a welcome boost that’s come hard on the heels of the news that Holden will not be supporting the once-all-conquering HRT beyond the end of this year. So, all of a sudden, another Holden team has stepped up to the plate in a 2016 season that’s been dominated by Holden drivers. The men from The General will go to the Mountain statistically best placed to bag the Bathurst 1000, but what of their challengers? Let’s consider them, marque by marque, starting with Nissan:
# 23 Nissan Altima - MICHAEL CARUSO
This is Caruso’s best season so far in V8 Supercars. He opened it by leading the points after Adelaide, and while he drifted back to seventh one event out from the enduros, it’s been a solid overall performance – culminating in victory at Hidden Valley. He was very strong at Queensland Raceway, and the number 23 Nissan – resplendent in that wonderfully uncluttered red 1966 retro livery – was quickest of the Nissan foursome in the Sandown 500. If Nissan is to claim its first Bathurst 1000 in 24 years, the Caruso/Fiore entry looks the most likely to deliver it.
Best in Bathurst 1000: 5th.
Career Best: 2003 Australian F3 Champion; 3rd in 2009 Bathurst 1000; 5th in 2012 Bathurst 1000; 5th in 2008 Phillip Island 500; 2nd in 2007 Dunlop V8 Supercar Series; 4th in 2006 Dunlop V8 Supercar Series.
# 23 Nissan Altima - DEAN FIORE
Dean Fiore teams up with Caruso for the third year in succession and should once again provide a good blend of dependability and pace. Fiore has been running in Carrera Cup this season but is no stranger to V8 Supercars, and the continuity from the previous two years should make for a strong partnership. Sandown showed as much; Fiore’s times were good; he looked like he’d never been away.
Best in Bathurst 1000: 13th.
Career Best: 2nd in 2008 Carrera Cup; 2nd in class in 2015 Dubai 24 Hours; 4th in 2005 Australian Formula Ford Championship; 6th in 2004 Australian Formula Ford Championship.
# 7 Nissan Altima - TODD KELLY
Todd Kelly’s in the midst of his best season in years. It’s been a long time since his last victory but more than once in 2016 he’s looked like a serious contender. The Altima package clearly has been improved since last year; importantly it doesn’t seem to be hampered by the lack of straight line speed that’s held it back here in the past. The partnership with young Matt Campbell got off to a good start in the Sandown 500 with a top 10 finish, the first Nissan home.
Best in Bathurst 1000: 1st, 2nd, 3rd
Career Best: 1st in 2005 Bathurst 1000; 1st in 2003 Bathurst 24 Hours; 1st in 2003 Sandown 500; 2nd in 2006 Bathurst 1000; 2nd in 2005 & 06 Sandown 500; 3rd in 1998 Australian Drivers’ Championship; 3rd in 1997 Australian Formula Ford Championship; 3rd in 2001 Bathurst 1000; 3rd in 2001 Queensland 500.
# 7 Nissan Altima - MATT CAMPBELL
Matt Campbell is an interesting addition to the rookie ranks for this year’s race in that he makes his PIRTEK Enduro Cup debut straight from the Carrera Cup, with no prior V8 Supercar race experience. Still, the Queensland youngster’s record in the Porsche series is impressive: he was third overall last year (ahead of the likes of Steven Richards and Craig Baird), and currently leads the 2016 standings. He was solid in his Supercars debut at Sandown; Bathurst will be a bigger challenge but Campbell looks the goods.
Best in Bathurst 1000: Rookie.
Career Best: 1st in 2012 Queensland Formula Ford Championship; 1st in class in 2014 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge; 3rd in 2015 Carrera Cup; 7th in 2016 Sandown 500; 9th 2013 Australian Formula Ford Championship.
# 15 Nissan Altima - RICK KELLY
It’s been five years since Rick Kelly last tasted victory in V8 Supercars. That’s a long time for a driver who is a two-time winner of this race, and a past series champion, but such as has been the vagaries of setting up one’s own team. Russell Ingall is an interesting co-driver choice; the pair has had more than the odd run-in over the years but never yet has the two been on the same side.
Best in Bathurst 1000: 1st (twice); 2nd.
Career Best: 1st in 2003 & 04 Bathurst 1000; 2006 Australian Touring Car Champion; 2001 Australian Drivers’ Champion; 2nd in 2006 Bathurst 1000; 2nd in 2016 Bathurst 12 Hours; 2nd in 2006 & 07 Sandown 500; 3rd in 2003 Sandown 500.
# 15 Nissan Altima - RUSSELL INGALL
He may have spent most of the last two years on the sidelines critiquing other drivers on FoxSport’s coverage, but when it comes to Bathurst there aren't many in the Enforcer’s league. This will be his 25th start, making him the most experienced driver in the field. In addition to his two wins and two second places, Ingall has scored no less than 11 top 10 Bathurst finishes. In ‘retirement’ over the past 12 months, Ingall uniquely has experienced life at both at the Holden Racing Team and Prodrive Racing Australia – no doubt the lads at Nissan Motorsport have hit up the Enforcer for a bit of inside info on their rivals!
Best in Bathurst 1000: 1st (twice); 2nd (twice).
Career Best: 1st in 1995 & 97 Bathurst 1000; 2005 Australian Touring Car Champion; 1st in 1993 British Open Formula Ford series; 1st in 1998 Sandown 500; 1st in 1999 Queensland 500; 1st in 1990 Formula Ford Driver to Europe series; 2nd in 1991 British FF1600 series; 2nd in 1998 & 2002 Bathurst 1000; 2nd in 1998, 99, 2001 & 04 ATCC/V8SCS; 2nd in 1997 & 2004 Sandown 500; 2nd in 2001 & 2002 Queensland 500.
GB Galvanizing Racing
# 96 Nissan Altima - DALE WOOD
This is Wood’s third year as a full timer but he’ll be making his ninth Great Race start. So he’s far from a rookie, and while there are plenty of bigger-name drivers in the field Wood has shown more than once that he can cut it with the best of them – don’t forget his provisional third-fastest effort here just two years ago.
Best in Bathurst 1000: 9th.
Career Best: 1st in 2013 Dunlop V8 Supercar Series; 9th in 2011 Bathurst 1000; 13th in 2008 Bathurst 1000; 6th in 2008 & 12 Dunlop V8 Supercar Series; 6th in 2006 Australian Formula Ford Championship.
# 96 Nissan Altima - DAVID RUSSELL
He’s almost part of the family at Nissan Motorsport, having driven for the team and the Kelly Racing Holden outfit which preceded every year at Bathurst since 2011. It shows the level of regard with which Russell is held – and something which was echoed by Bentley which included the Queenslander in its squad at this year’s Bathurst 12 Hour.
Best in Bathurst 1000: 8th.
Career Best: 1st in class in 2002 Bathurst 24 Hours; 1st in class in 2007 & 11 Bathurst 12 Hours; 2nd in 2013 Sepang 12 Hours; 2nd in class in 2001 AGTPC; 3rd in 2008 Carrera Cup; 4th in 2008 Dubai 24 Hours.
Harvey Norman Supergirls
# 360 Nissan Altima - SIMONA DE SILVESTRO
The recent announcement that de Silvestro has signed a three-year deal to race in the Supercar series (although, oddly, there’s been no mention of what and with whom she’ll be driving next year) is great news, because de Silvestro is not just a very capable driver, she’s possibly the best female racing driver in the world right now. She lacks experience in touring cars but has been a high achiever in a host of different openwheeler divisions, including Indycar racing and the Indy 500. She was even touted for a time as a potential F1 driver with Sauber – it would have happened if the funding had been there. She comes to Bathurst on the back of the experience gained from last year’s troubled run – it will be fascinating to see how she fares.
Best in Bathurst 1000: 21st.
Career Best: 3rd in 2009 Atlantic Championship; 4th in 2008 Formula BMW USA; 14th in 2010 Indianapolis 500; 13th in 2013 Indycar Series.
# 360 Nissan Altima - RENEE GRACIE
Gracie and the Harvey Norman-backed wildcard entry attracted enormous attention last year; no doubt she’ll be hoping the spotlight is shone in their direction this year for reasons other than the novelty of it being an all-girl crew. A full season in this year’s Dunlop Series should see Gracie in better shape for the 2016 race in what will be her first run in an Altima.
Best in Bathurst 1000: 21st.
Career Best: 15th in 2014 Carrera Cup; 18th in 2015 Dunlop V8 Supercar Series; 21st in 2015 Bathurst 1000.
So far in 2016 for Nissan...
It’s a sign of the changing times when the Ford fleet outnumbers the Nissans at Bathurst by just the single Falcon. It’s also noteworthy that as the endurance season kicked off, Nissan has matched Ford’s win tally for 2016. It’s been another year of incremental improvement for Nissan Motorsport, and five Altimas – for what it’s worth, the largest Nissan entry in the race in 29 years – are headed to the Mountain this year for what undoubtedly is the best chance of a Nissan Great Race win since the early ‘90s era of the R32 model Nissan GT-R ‘Godzilla’. The Caruso/Fiore entry is the one to watch, but you wouldn't bet the house against Rick Kelly and Russell Ingall scoring what would be a third Bathurst win for both of them.