Renault Australia’s Marketing Director Chris Brown gave a hint at the Australian Grand Prix last year, saying: “Renault would be making a prominant move into Australian motorsport in the new year”. What he really meant was a Nissan, as part of the Renault/Nissan concord, would be making a move. But when Nissan Australia managing director Dan Thompson fronted the motorsport press this week and announced Nissan would be backing a factory tie-in with Kelly Brothers Racing, there was probably more than a few in the room who would’ve reacted less to an immanent tsunami warning.
“Nissan believes that, alongside Ford and Holden, we possess the most convincing motorsport DNA and track history in Australia, making a V8 Supercars debut in 2013 an obvious initiative,” said Thompson.
Whilst Thompson was right, it’s less DNA and more of an impact crater that Nissan has left on the Australian motorsport landscape. George Fury’s 1984 Group C Bluebird Bathurst pole record along with Jim Richards and Mark Skaife’s controversial rain-effected 1992 win, (in the dominant GTR – or colloquially named ‘Godzilla’) of the same event rank as seismic junctures for the Japanese manufacturer.
But just as a meteorological impact leaves as much opportunity for growth as it does damage, so too has Nissan’s dominance and subsequent departure from the sport (coinciding with the demise of Group A), provided the Australian V8 Supercars label with a healthy impetus to expand its brand throughout the Southern Hemisphere, Middle East and shortly North America.
And therein lay the irony. Whilst the tribal mentality fostered via the Ford vs Holden rivalry (although there is very little difference under the skin between the two marques) has garnered massive support from flag-waving zealots, it has little to offer an international audience other than something of denier cri interest – albeit an antiquated one. So too, Australian consumers have voted with their wallets, with the Mazda 3 now ousting the Holden Commodore as the number one selling unit in the country.
Interestingly, Chrysler had also been reported to have been contacting a number of V8 Supercar teams in 2011, but with Penske being Chrysler’s main focus and the US economy the way it is, it hardly seems an appropriate time to be throwing large amounts of greenback at a curious race series on the other side of the pond. Likewise, with the Falcon project soon shutting up shop, Ford can hardly justify going racing with an obsolete model whose road-going antecedent was developed on government handouts. Ford will have to either discontinue their racing program or find a marque that better fits their and their customer needs.
So Nissan, once absurdly maligned for the assassination of Australian Touring Car racing has come to the rescue of a series that, whilst outwardly seems to be prospering, must surely be reaching its evolutional zenith. With any luck, more manufacturers will follow suit and we’ll see a return to the kind of colour seen in top-line Australian racing in the 80’s and 90’s.
That is until the Japanese giant once again becomes a force to be reckoned with…