Nissan has confirmed the driver line-up for its Bathurst 12 Hour defense, with former V8 Supercars champion Rick Kelly to partner 2015 winners Katsumasa Chiyo and GT Academy winner Florian Strauss at the endurance classic on February 5-7, 2016.
The trio will drive the No. 1 Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 for the NISMO Athlete Global Team at the iconic Mount Panorama circuit, where Nissan will aim to win back-to-back Bathurst 12 Hour victories, emulating the success of the Nissan GT-R at the Bathurst 1000 in 1991 and 1992.
Kelly enters the Bathurst 12 Hour for the second time, after a strong showing in the opening stint of the race in 2014, only for the NISMO entry to fall out of the event in the early stages.
Chiyo will return to the Bathurst 12 Hour after starring in last year’s race, where he jumped into the lead on the penultimate lap to claim a spectacular win.
Chiyo was one of the most successful GT sportscar drivers in the world in 2015, winning the Blancpain GT Endurance Series PRO Class title in Europe as well as the Super GT Championship GT300 Teams title in Japan.
Strauss was a late inclusion in the NISMO entry in 2015 but shone at the event, despite it being his first race at Mount Panorama and only beginning his racing career 18 months prior.
Previously the manager of a car rental center, Strauss won the 2013 Nissan PlayStation GT Academy competition, switching from gamer-to-racer to become a professional racing driver for Nissan.
“The combination of Rick, Chiyo-san and Florian gives us a very strong line-up for our Bathurst 12 Hour title defense,” said Nissan Motor Co. (Australia) Managing Director and CEO Richard Emery.
“We had very accomplished drivers from all over the Nissan world keen to race our new Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 at Bathurst. In the end, we are pleased to be giving Rick a second chance to race in the Bathurst 12 Hour, alongside Chiyo-san, who had an outstanding season in 2015, and Florian, who did the GT Academy program proud with last year’s win.
“The 2015 Bathurst 12 Hour victory was a momentous occasion for Nissan and NISMO. Our aim is to repeat the success of 1991 and 1992 and give the GT-R back-to-back Bathurst wins, but that will be a tough task given the very high level of competition in this year’s race.
“It’s also great to see the global collaboration that is going into our Bathurst 12 Hour entry, which is further evidence of how highly Nissan rates this event and how seriously NISMO is treating our efforts to defend last year’s spectacular race win.”
The NISMO Athlete Global Team, based at NISMO headquarters in Japan, will return to the Bathurst 12 Hour for the third consecutive year, with support from the Nissan Motorsport V8 Supercars race team, as well as UK-based Nissan GT Academy Team RJN, the 2015 Blancpain GT Endurance Series PRO Class champions.
”We have built a brand-new 2015 specification Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 for the 2016 Bathurst 12 Hour,” said Toshikazu Tanaka, Team Director and Corporate Vice President of Nissan Motorsports International Co., Ltd. (NISMO).
“2015 was a remarkable year for the Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3, with race wins on four continents and championship victories in the Blancpain GT Endurance Series in Europe and GT300 Super GT Championship in Japan.
“Last year’s Bathurst 12 Hour win was the start of an outstanding year for the Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3, with wins following in the Blancpain GT Endurance Series in Europe, Super GT Championship in Japan and Pirelli World Challenge in the United States. It is not an easy task, but we are determined to defend last year’s victory with our colleagues from Nissan Australia.”
While the traditional racing number of Nissan and NISMO globally is the #23, the entry will carry the #1 at the 2016 Bathurst 12 Hour, to signify its status as defending race winner.
The car will remain in Australia permanently following the race. The latest specification car includes improvements to brakes, handling, aerodynamics and driver ergonomics.
Australian gamer-turned-racer Matt Simmons, winner of the 2015 Nissan PlayStation GT Academy International competition, will form a part of the NISMO Athlete Global Team crew at the 2016 Bathurst 12 Hour, learning from drivers and engineers as he prepares to make his professional racing debut in the 2016 Blancpain GT Endurance Series in a Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3.