Nissan Motorsport has finalised its endurance driver line-up for the 2013 V8 Supercars Championship, confirming the signing of young guns Taz Douglas and Daniel Gaunt to the Norton 360 Racing Nissan Altimas.
Douglas will partner James Moffat in the #360 Norton Nissan, while New Zealander Gaunt will drive alongside Caruso in the #36 entry.
Douglas and Gaunt will compete with Moffat and Caruso respectively at the famous Sandown 500, Bathurst 1000 and the Gold Coast 600 races.
The signings completes the four-car line-up, with Jack Daniel's Racing's Rick and Todd Kelly to be joined by Karl Reindler and David Russell respectively (announced last week).
The Douglas/Gaunt duo will be race fit for the two-driver events as they are both competing in the Dunlop V8 Development Series this year, driving for rival Ford teams.
This year's endurance events will be Douglas and Gaunt's fourth Bathurst 1000 race attempt, with Gaunt having the best finishing result of 12th with Tim Slade in 2011.
All four of Nissan Motorsport's endurance drivers will have the opportunity to test the Altimas in test days leading up to the endurance races, as well as 'co-driver' practice sessions at Townsville, Queensland Raceway and Winton's V8 events.
The Sandown 500 (September 13-15), the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 (October 10-13) and the Armor All Gold Coast 600 (October 25-27) make up the inaugural 'Enduro Cup,' to be awarded to the highest scoring driver/s from the three races.
Michael Caruso, primary driver, #36 Norton 360 Nissan Altima
"I'm excited to have Dan Gaunt alongside me in the #36 Norton Altima," said Michael Caruso.
"He has been doing a lot of driving at Sandown and Bathurst over the past few years, and we're a similar height, so all those little things help in the endurance races.
"By the time we get to Bathurst, I think we'll have a really good opportunity. The Altima is handling well, and it seems to enjoy high-speed circuits, so I can't wait to get to the Mountain and strangle the life out of the car there."
Daniel Gaunt, co-driver, #36 Norton 360 Nissan Altima
"It's a great opportunity for me to drive with Nissan Motorsport in a factory team," said Daniel Gaunt.
"The height thing is a big factor in the endurance races. We're roughly the same stature, so I can't wait to have a skid in the Altima.
"I haven't driven one of the new-generation V8 Supercars yet, but from what I've heard, there's a lot of similarities to the old cars and a lot of changes as well. Apparently, the differences are similar to the V8 SuperTourer that I've been racing in New Zealand for the past year, so hopefully there's no major transition phase. It should just be a matter of getting up to speed and learning how Michael likes the car."
James Moffat, primary driver, #360 Norton 360 Nissan Altima
"I'm really happy to have Taz with me in the endurance races. I think he'll be a really good fit on our side of the garage at Norton 360 Racing – not only for Sandown and Bathurst, but for the Gold Coast as well," said James Moffat.
"Taz and I have been mates for a while now. I was actually his mechanic for the 2005 Victorian Formula Ford Series. We've known each other for a long time and I'm sure he'll fit in.
"Naturally, we want to go as well as we can and it's fair to say that not many will consider us outright contenders. If we can sneak along, stay out of trouble, we should be able to get some positive results across the three races."
Taz Douglas, co-driver, #360 Norton 360 Nissan Altima
"Whenever you can drive for a factory team, it's exciting, and for me, it's my first time with a factory V8 team, so it's a dream come true," said Taz Douglas.
"It's also Nissan's first time back at Bathurst, so it will be great to be a part of it.
"I don't like to put expectations on things. Moff has been going really well in the championship so far, and the Nissans have been showing better speed than what many had expected. I think with our experience together, there's no reason why we can't achieve solid results.
"The Enduro Cup is a new thing this year. It's a good initiative for guys like myself to aspire to get. We get to race at the Gold Coast as well, and I raced there last year, so I think that will hold us in good stead."
Todd Kelly, primary driver, #7 Jack Daniel’s Nissan Altima
“It’s great to have ‘Coighty’, as we call him, back in the car, we’ve spent a little bit of time together in the past in the one car, so to team up again is fantastic,” Todd Kelly said.
“To have some continuity with a familiar face is for me, extremely important. We can basically jump in the car and take off from where we left off the last time we drove together at Bathurst.
“We don’t have to learn what each other likes, or learn what a new person is like to work with, so it’s pretty much jump in and get straight down to business with David, which I’m really looking forward to.”
David Russell, co-driver, #7 Jack Daniel’s Nissan Altima
“It’s my third year with the team and a very exciting time obviously with a factory team, the first time I’ve been involved in a factory team, so to be teamed up with Todd is a great opportunity,” David Russell said.
“We get on very well, I’ve raced with him before and I’ve got some unfinished business from last time I was with Todd. We were in a really good spot and unfortunately things didn’t go our way.
“I think it’s time to turn the tables and go and get a very solid result for Nissan Motorsport.”
Rick Kelly, primary, driver, #15 Jack Daniel’s Nissan Altima
“Karl in my opinion has got a little bit of unfinished business within our team, we had him last year as one of our drivers and particularly towards the later part of the year, he really found his straps and did a fantastic job,” Rick Kelly said.
“It’s been tough for him not to be in the car full time this year, but for him to join myself at the three endurance races is a good opportunity for Karl to jump back in and show that he can do a fantastic job as he did last year.
“For us it’s a great opportunity to get a strong result, I think that Karl and myself as a pairing is as strong as anyone else out there and it certainly gives us a chance of getting a good result.”
Karl Reindler, co-driver, #15 Jack Daniel’s Nissan Altima:
“I’m really looking forward to teaming up with Rick for all three endurance races this season, obviously I was with the team last year, so I’m comfortable with how everything works,” Karl Reindler said.
“Having the opportunity to be part of the Nissan factory team when it returns to Bathurst for the first time since 1992 is a huge deal, and I think Rick and I have got a great chance of getting a really strong result.
“I get on really well with Rick and we are a similar build, which makes seating position and things like that a lot more simple, I just can’t wait to get in the car.”