Winton certainly proved to be the best weekend the Jack Daniel’s Nissan has had so far in season 2015, but as Rick Kelly writes, there’s definitely plenty more to come.
It was awesome to get back up onto the podium with second place in race two; it’s been a while between champagne showers! It was great to split the two Pepsi Max cars, as those guys had their act together over the weekend.
Qualifying has unquestionably been a focus for us this season, so to string together three efforts within the top seven is fairly satisfying. As expected, there were a few wildcards in there, including in the first 10 minute qualifying session on Saturday which started with an oil covered track and a red flag.
Finishing seventh in opening race was solid, but then my engineer George Commins came up with a strong package for the Saturday evening race. It actually finished after sunset, making it a bit hard to pick some of the apexes. With the track cooling off, George took a swing at the set-up, which really paid off nicely.
Quick start crucial
Importantly we made a quick start and avoided the first lap carnage before settling in behind Mark Winterbottom.
Could I have made a move for the lead early on? Possibly, but it was always going to be a high risk one.
In the back of my mind I was thinking back to Michael Caruso at Queensland Raceway last year, when he went for a move, the door closed, there was contact and he copped a penalty.
My thinking was that we were better off finishing second rather than last. If there was a safe move on offer I would have taken it, but we just weren’t close enough to attempt a dive bomb.
It’s great to remain in the Top 10 on the points standings after the first 12 races of the season, and if you include the Grand Prix, we’ve finished in the Top 10 from 10 of the 16 races to date.
It’s also very pleasing to see my buddy TK right behind me in 11th on the points table; he has flown under the radar, but has been ultra-consistent to date.
Todd did a great job on Saturday to finish fifth in the opener, which was also great for his new sponsor Jayco. We’re both mad keen on camping and caravanning, so it’s very cool be associated with such an iconic Australian brand.
Elsewhere in the Nissan Motorsport camp on the weekend, Michael Caruso was absolutely on it. Finishing the weekend with a third, 10th and a fourth was a great bounce back after a tough start to the season… and his car looked tough in its new all-red Nissan Navara colours.
Sunday Bloody Sunday
While we were happy to qualify sixth for the Sunday race, it was always going to be a tougher affair for the JD rocket. During the Saturday races, a lot of guys saved tyres, while we were on all-out attack as we saw the day as a big opportunity.
That left us on the grid Sunday with boots which already had a full race under their belt.
So we lost ground initially as those with better rubber made headway, and then things came unstuck in the pits with another tyre change issue. We dropped back to last, and unfortunately had to nurse a tyre around that by the end of the second stint had completed a total of three full runs.
We switched over to soft tyres earlier than anyone and dropped a lap behind the leaders. Luckily the safety car saved us this time, and we were able to catch up to the pack.
The car was once again a rocket on the softs, and we carved through to the Top 10, and pick up the fastest lap of the race. It’s the second time we’ve achieved that in four races now.
We had the pace, but unfortunately the tyres tripped over the performance cliff, and we had to settle for 11th at the chequered flag. Regardless, it was a good to flex a bit of muscle on the comeback trail.
After Saturday’s efforts, it was great to receive so much positive feedback from the fans. The weekend showed that we are definitely moving in the right direction as a team, and we are capable of scoring big results.
We’re more determined than ever, and we can’t wait to finally get our engine improvements a little later on in the year.