This weekend’s Liqui Moly Bathurst 12 Hour marks the monumental return of an iconic brand to Mount Panorama.
Twenty-two years after Jim Richards and Mark Skaife’s Bathurst 1000 victory in a Nissan Skyline R32 GT-R, the Japanese manufacturer makes a comeback to the Mountain with the latest incarnation of the car nicknamed “Godzilla.”
Nissan’s Rick Kelly, Alex Buncombe, GT Academy star Wolfgang Reip and development driver Katsumasa Chiyo will be looking to continue the GT-R’s winning legacy on Australia’s most famous circuit, in what’s become the country’s leading GT endurance race.
“I am treating this race as seriously as I possibly can,” said Kelly, one of Nissan’s V8 Supercars stars. “I am putting my head down and backside up to try and get a result because it’s obviously very different racing to what I’m used to.
“The Nismo factory operation is really impressive. For me it has been a real eye opener to see how they go about their motorsport and you can see that in how well the car is presented.
“It’s really impressive and for me this is a really big learning experience as well.”
Running under the Nismo Athlete Global Team banner, the Japanese-based factory squad is supported this weekend by a handful of Nissan’s V8 Supercar crew, including Kelly’s race engineer Erik Pender.
While two-time Bathurst 1000 winner Kelly is no stranger to the circuit, his three co-drivers are making their Bathurst debuts, including Buncombe, who has compared Mount Panorama to the Nurburgring Nordschleife.
“My first fast lap here, I went down through Skyline and down to the Dipper and as I got to Conrod Straight, I literally felt dizzy just because of the amount of up and down and left-right corners,” Buncombe said.
“It blew me away and it took me a little while to get used to that. It’s just an awesome track.”
Buncombe proved to be a quick learner, having set the car’s quickest time, a 2:06.595 lap on Friday, but was fully aware that there was more speed left in the car.
“We’ve still got a lot to learn around this track,” he said. “Obviously I know the car well, so I know what it’s going to do. But there’s certain areas up on the top of the mountain that I still don’t know where to turn and there’s some blind corners.”
Staying out of trouble is likely to be one of the keys to success on race day, with the Mountain having already claimed a number of victims, including two Class A cars on Saturday alone.
The Nissan bunch have instead taken a level-headed approach to the weekend, knowing the race isn’t going to be won in qualifying.
Kelly recorded a 2:04.822 lap time in the first session, which is good enough to put the No. 32 entry fifth on the starting grid.
“For us, obviously our focus is not qualifying, our focus is the race and we’ve been very disciplined in that yesterday and today as well,” Kelly said.
“It’s a little tough out there with the amount of red flags we’ve got and the slower traffic… We’ve obviously got to be very disciplined and smart of how we approach that. That’s part of this racing, so we do a good job with that.”
With the right strategy and a little bit of luck, history could very well repeat itself tomorrow, with “Godzilla” re-claiming Mount Panorama.