V8SC: 2014 Preview – Norton Hornets

James Pike Featured, International, Supercars 0 Comments

Welcome back to Race Chaser Online’s 2014 V8 Supercars Championship Preview! Today is unofficially “Nissan Day”, as we will look at both of the Nissan Motorsport-powered entries in the Championship. We start Wednesday with the first half of their operation, the Norton Hornets.

Norton Hornets

DRIVERS:

#36 – Michael Caruso, Norton Antivirus Nissan Altima

#360 – James Moffat, Norton Antivirus Nissan Altima

2013 TEAM POINTS FINISH: 9th

2013 HIGHLIGHT MOMENT: The 1-2 finish in the Saturday opener at Winton

 

What kind of sting will the Norton Hornets bring in 2014? No one knows for sure, but that will be the main question that the team will answer in their second campaign with Nissan power.

To recap: this team is the second half of the Kelly Racing operation (officially a separate team for scoring and rule purposes, but essentially teammates to Jack Daniel’s Racing). When Kelly Racing announced mid-2012 that they would leave Holden at the end of the season to campaign Nissan Altimas with factory support from Nissan’s performance arm, NISMO, in 2013, the Norton team followed suit. In the offseason between 2012 and 2013, the team signed Michael Caruso from Garry Rogers Motorsport to pilot their second car.

There are various ways to look at this team’s 2013 season, but by most accounts, it was a success. For starters, they beat Erebus Motorsport, the other team in the V8 Supercars Championship to switch manufacturers for 2013, in the points. They also scored the first win for Nissan in Australian touring car racing since 1992 when they went 1-2 at Winton Motor Speedway. James Moffat also improved on his finish in the final point standings by three places from 2012 (21st to 18th in 2013). Those victories will be the building blocks from which the Norton Hornets will look to expand their operation.

However, most of those victories were offset by one very large problem: retirements. When the Hornets were running on track, they were consistently fighting for a place between 10th and 15th in just about every race they finished. But the ninth-place finish in the team points is almost entirely a result of all the mechanical issues and accidents that forced the Hornets to retire from a slew of races in 2013. Between Caruso and Moffat, the Norton Hornets failed to finish nine times in the 11 races that followed that historic opener at Winton. If this team is to improve on their 2013 season, then their primary goal needs to be making sure that they are running when the checkered flag falls.

However, fans of the Hornets have many reasons to be optimistic that 2014 will go better than the maiden season with Nissan did. Both Caruso and Moffat return to their respective Altimas in 2014, as does the factory support from NISMO and the crews from both teams. Now that this team has a year’s worth of experience under their belt, they will have a much-expanded set of notes to look off of to improve their cars this time around. Likewise, many of the mechanical issues that plagued the Nissans a year ago should be solved in 2014, and should not occur nearly as often.

Both Nissan teams will also benefit from a new aerodynamic package that should reduce the drag on their cars and increase their overall top speed. The lack of top speed was a major sticking point for the Nissan cars last season, as they were well off the numbers that the top teams in the series were hitting (for example, their top speed down Mount Panorama’s Conrod Straight was about 10 km/h slower than that of Red Bull Racing Australia- that translates to about a half second disadvantage per lap, which at Bathurst is a very large margin).

They spent the majority of their R&D efforts last season looking into a more streamlined aero package for 2014; once they settled on one, it was sent to the V8SC offices and approved with little hassle. The top speed boost from the new aero package should help immensely at some of the bigger tracks and longer straightaways on the schedule (like Bathurst’s Conrod Straight and the front straight at Hidden Valley).

In the end, though, the Nissans’ forte should still be the smaller tracks on the schedule, where handling and acceleration are the most important parts of a car’s setup. That is where the Nissans were strongest in 2013; in this regard, the win at Winton (one of the slowest and tightest tracks on the V8SC calendar) should not have come as a shock. Incidentally, two of those tracks, the aforementioned Winton Motor Raceway and Symmons Plains Raceway in Tasmania, are two of the first three tracks that the V8 Supercars Championship visits in 2014. Don’t be surprised if the Norton Hornets run well early on in the season- the tracks play to their strong suits, and if they can build some momentum early on, it could be a wonderful season for the boys in black and yellow.

For more, visit the team’s website at http://nortonracing.nissanmotorsport.com.au/.

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