Nissan Australia has confirmed the upcoming mid-sized Nissan Altima will race against Ford and Holden in the V8 Supercars championship from 2013.
The all-new fifth-generation Altima, which will be unveiled tomorrow at the New York auto show, will go on sale in Australia in the second half of 2013, approximately six months after it lines up on the grid for the first time in Adelaide in March.
The Altima race cars will be rear-wheel-drive and powered by a V8 engine to meet the conditions of V8 Supercars’ new ‘Car of the Future’ regulations, despite the production model being front-wheel-drive-only and it being technically impossible to fit a V8 engine under the road car’s bonnet.
The engine will be a re-sleeved version of Nissan’s quad-cam aluminium 5.6-litre VK56DE V8, which will be reconfigured to a 5.0-litre capacity to match its Ford and Holden rivals.
A version of the engine will be available in the upcoming Nissan Patrol when it goes on sale locally around the end of 2012.
The existing Kelly Racing team will be rebranded Nissan Motorsport Australia at the completion of the 2012 season. It will run a four-car team in 2013, headlined by famous racing brothers Rick and Todd Kelly (pictured below with a Nissan GT-R).
Nissan Australia general manager of sales and fleet Ian Moreillon says his brand will not simply be making up the numbers on the V8 Supercars grid in 2013.
“We’re not going to go out there and say we expect to be in the number one position from day one or day two or whatever, but we do expect to be competitive and we do expect to be on the podium next year on more than one occasion,” Moreillon said.
He confirmed the V8 Supercar program would cost Nissan “several million [dollars] per year”, and said Nissan was committed to the sport on a multi-year deal, which should see it compete in the series deep into this decade at the very least.
Moreillon believes the decision to launch the race car first and then add the road car to showrooms is unprecedented for any vehicle or manufacturer around the world, but insists V8 Supercars will play a crucial role in introducing the Altima name to Australia and enriching Nissan’s passenger car pedigree.
“We will be utilising V8 Supercar racing as a mechanism for fast-start for Altima in Australia – to establish the nameplate, establish the car, the recognition, the overall awareness of the vehicle, which is critical from a marketing perspective.
“We’re not doing this only for Nissan Altima sales… We are doing it for total brand strength and the linkage between the V8 Supercar racing and the Nissan brand.
“The benefits that we will achieve to overall brand opinion as [a result] of this major activity is where the benefit will lie.”
Kelly Racing (and impending Nissan Motorsport Australia) chairman John Crennan believes the new team will attract a following of more than 200,000 people by the end of next year, translating into support for the Nissan brand and consequent sales of Nissan-branded products.
“I don’t believe any more in ‘Win on Sunday, sell on Monday’, but I do have a very strong belief about brand disposition and building a family of people who support your brand as a consequence of a particular property,” Crennan said.
“Within five or 10 years… I think automatically and very quickly there will be a fast engagement with those people, and you will find that with t-shirts and hats and caps, etc., which later become motorcars in one way, shape or form.”
Moreillon said independent research had shown Nissan was the number one brand people wanted to see return to Australian touring car racing and showed Altima was an appropriate car to do that with.
“V8 Supercars appeals to the broad spectrum of the marketplace and the research absolutely shows that,” he said. “Yes… people who drive Mazda6s and [Honda] Accord Euros watch V8 Supercars absolutely and they will engage into that.”
Rick Kelly said the reaction from the fans so far has been overwhelmingly positive.
“It seems to me that the whole fan base must have thought that the category was just a little bit stagnant, it had been like that for a long time, nothing new, nothing exciting, and they really feel re-energised [with the introduction of Nissan],” he said.
The 29-year-old two-time Bathurst winner said it was unlikely the team would have a car ready for August’s practice session, but insisted there was “no chance” the car would not be ready and fully competitive for the start of the 2013 championship.
The team is currently developing the car’s aerodynamics package and will unveil the finished race car before the end of this year.