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Nissan races for medium-car buyers

Black beauty: Nissan’s Altima V8 Supercar campaign is being masterminded by Kelly Racing’s Rick (left) and Todd Kelly.

Multi-million-dollar plunge into V8 Supercars plants the seeds for Nissan Altima

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Nissan logo12 Feb 2013

By RON HAMMERTON

NISSAN’S 300km/h branding campaign for its all-new Altima mid-size car takes to the track in public for the first time this Saturday in the form of Nissan Motorsport’s four-car V8 Supercar team headed by the racing Kelly brothers, Todd and Rick.

An official test day for all V8 teams at Sydney’s Eastern Creek not only marks the first serious competitive shakedown for the Altimas – the first Nissan touring cars in Australia’s premier race series since 1992 – but also the start of the company’s bid to win the hearts and minds of medium-car owners in a market dominated by Toyota’s locally made Camry and Mazda’s imported Mazda6.

The Altima is still about nine months away from launch, but Nissan wants to raise awareness of its upcoming model and surround it with a sense of high technology and rubber-burning excitement.

Although race budgets have not been disclosed, Nissan Australia is reputedly spending at least as much as Holden and much more than Ford in the series, which will also include some Mercedes-Benz E-Class entrants – unsupported in any substantial way by Mercedes-Benz Australia – for the first time.

This year, Holden has ramped up the sponsorship of its two official V8 Supercar teams, Holden Racing Team and Red Bull Triple 8 Racing, as part of efforts to promote its forthcoming VF Commodore that will also get its first public race track airing this weekend in Sydney.

Nissan Australia managing director Bill Peffer told GoAuto that, while Altima was Nissan’s top-selling car in the United States where it has been sold for 20 years, it was an unknown badge in Australia.

He said the V8 Supercar involvement gave Nissan an ideal platform to launch its branding campaign for the Altima and other new Nissan products, including the all-new Pathfinder.

“It is a good runway as we introduce a whole suite of products in the next 12 months,” he said.

Mr Peffer acknowledged that entering a four-car V8 Supercar team was an expensive enterprise, but said Nissan expected to see a return in its investment “almost immediately” once the series got underway at the Clipsal 500 in Adelaide at the end of this month.

The financial input of car companies has been on the wane in recent years, with both Ford and Holden cutting back the number of teams sponsored by the factory.

This year, factory backing has never been more important as each two-car team’s cut from television rights has been sliced heavily and generous sponsors are few and far between.

The arrival of Nissan on the scene has injected welcome capital into the category and to Kelly Racing, which lost its Holden support.

Two of the Kelly-prepared Altimas, driven by Todd and Rick Kelly, will race under the Jack Daniels Whiskey banner, while two drivers new to Kelly Racing, Michael Caruso and James Moffat, will steer the other two cars under sponsorship from computer security software firm Norton Security.

The cars will be powered by Nissan’s own V8 engine based on the 5.6-litre unit from the new Patrol that was launched in Australia this month.

Sleeved back to 5.0 litres and with a number of mandatory controls to ensure parity with the Ford, Holden and Mercedes-Benz V8s, the racing version of the multi-valve alloy block engine was developed locally with the help of Nissan’s NISMO experts in Japan.

The V8 Supercar series ventures to the US for the first time this year with a round in Austin, Texas, in May.

The good news for Nissan Australia is that it will get support from Nissan’s US marketing department at that event, Mr Peffer confirmed.

The V8 Supercar series would appear to be a good platform from which to launch a high-performance version of the Altima, but Mr Peffer said it was too early to say if that would happen.

“We have confirmed a 2.5-litre four-cylinder, and beyond that – too early to talk about,” he said.

In Nissan’s previous Australian touring car championship foray in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Skyline GT-R ‘Godzillas’ dominated the series, winning three championships on the trot between 1990 and 1992, along with the premier race of the season, the Bathurst 1000, in 1991 and 1992.

One of drivers at the helm of the all-conquering Nissan racers was Mark Skaife, who attended today’s Nissan Motorsport car unveiling in Melbourne.

Skaife had a large hand in the design of all V8 Supercars to hit the circuit this year, overseeing the development of the new Car of the Future common race-car architecture that will sit under cars of all brands.

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