Kelly will tough it out in Texas

Character-testing struggle: Rick Kelly qualifying for the inaugural Austin 400 in his Nissan Altima. Photo: SuppliedAustin: The only thing that could make former champion Rick Kelly happier than finally getting to race in the United States would be to score Nissan’s first V8 Supercars victory at the inaugural Austin 400.
Nanjing Night Net

It’s unlikely to happen because the Japanese car-maker is early in its freshman year in V8s and still a long way from catching up to Ford and Holden, which have dominated for 20 years.

But while he faces another character-testing struggle to threaten the top 10 in V8 Supercars’ first event in the US at the Circuit Of The Americas just outside Austin, Texas, on Sunday and Monday mornings (Australian time), Kelly is fulfilling a fantasy by racing in the Lone Star State.

”Racing a V8 Supercar over here is a dream come true,” he said. ”I can do what I love in America, which is a place I really like. I’ve always loved coming over here.”

Kelly, 30, once had ambitions to pursue a career in American stock cars, visiting NASCAR teams in 2007 – the year after he won the V8 title – in search of an opportunity to compete in a starter series.

Even though fellow former V8 champion Marcos Ambrose had successfully graduated from truck racing to NASCAR’s second-tier stock car competition, there was no interest from NASCAR teams in giving another Australian road racer a chance.

Kelly’s disappointment at not being able to get his foot in the NASCAR door will be forgotten when he races his Jack Daniel’s Racing Nissan Altima in the four-race Austin 400, which he regards as ”a big moment” for V8 Supercars.

Kelly’s enthusiasm for the States meant he had no qualms about coming over early for a two-day promotional tour in Tennessee for his team’s major backers, Jack Daniel’s and Nissan, both of which have major operations outside Nashville.

After accepting that his American dream wasn’t going to come true, Kelly joined his brother Todd – also a leading V8 driver – in the even more ambitious goal of establishing their own V8 Supercars team.

They became teammates in their own operation in 2009 and this year are running Nissan Australia’s return to racing, fielding four Altimas under the new Car Of The Future regulations that have opened the sport to new makes.

It’s been a struggle for both Rick and Todd as they try to fast-track the development of their all-new Altimas while spending most of the races battling to finish in the top 15.

In the first four events, they routinely qualified in the bottom third of the 28-car field, a rude awakening for former factory Holden drivers who have, between them, won a V8 championship, three Bathurst 1000s and made regular appearances on the podium.

Rebranded Nissan Motorsport, the family-owned Kelly Racing team’s best result so far this season was a strong seventh for Rick in one of the four races at Pukekohe, near Auckland, last month.

The Altima V8 racer – which uses a production-based V8 against the bespoke competition engines of Ford and Holden – is trailing in straightline speed in the early stages of its development.

While Kelly accepts that qualifying near the back of the grid and racing in the mid-field is inevitable in the early stages of the development of a brand new entry, he says the experience has been frustrating.

”I built myself up mentally to go out and have a shot at being at the front,” he said.

”And so when the reality hit that we were behind in a couple of areas and needed to develop the engine, it really hit me hard personally.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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