With the V8 Supercars making the short(ish) trip across the Tasman this weekend to Hamilton, Rick Kelly gave us the lowdown on team ownership, Ford vs Holden and his new Nissan Car of the Future.
Rick Kelly’s V8 career has never been dull. Twice a winner at Bathurst, series champion in 2006 and now an owner/driver together with brother Todd. Next up for Rick is another seismic shift with Kelly Racing using V8’s Car of the Future reorganisation to move out of the Holden stable – Rick’s home since 2001 – to launch Nissan into the world of V8 Supercars. It’s as controversial as it is exciting but people are definitely sitting up and taking notice.
RB: So Rick, after a couple of years running your own outfit, is life better being your own boss?
RK: That’s the big question, isn’t it! I was ‘just’ a professional driver from the beginning of 2001 until the end of 2008 when we started up Kelly Racing for the 2009 season. Honestly I think Todd and I were a little bit ignorant. We thought as soon as we got the team set up, after the first six to 12 months we’ll be able to go pop into work three days a week to make sure everything was running smoothly. Well, it definitely isn’t like that!
This is without question a seven days a week job. It’s very different to being a driver and there’s so much going on behind the scenes that you don’t appreciate until it’s your responsibility. I think both Todd and I are a lot wiser for having done this. It’s a lot of effort – but I’ve got to say I’m really, really enjoying it.
The one thing you have to be certain about is that you get the difficult balance right of making sure running the business doesn’t affect your driving. You have to put the business away when you pull your helmet on – but it’s very difficult because as you’re rolling the car out you’re looking at things in the garage, seeing what people are doing and inevitably you think about that stuff. I think it’s more difficult for Todd than it is for me because he’s the Racing Director. All the stuff that happens at the track is in his bag rather than in mine. As I’m the commercial director most of my work is done before we get to the circuit.
RB: Brothers don’t always make great business partners – what’s it like working with Todd?
RK: It’s good. We’re into our fourth year now and it’s going well. Obviously we have varying opinions from time to time but we’ve never had a blue by any stretch of the imagination – in fact I’d say as two directors of a business we work very, very well together. But as I say, it’s not just us. We have an excellent management group and brilliant staff. We’re lucky to have great minds in the team that really allows us to make good decisions.
RB: And is bringing Nissan next year into a traditional world of Ford vs Holden a good decision?
RK: Oh yeah, definitely. Obviously it’s quite a tight little rivalry between those two manufacturers and we were always concerned about how it would be perceived when Nissan came in as a third manufacturer. To be honest it’s been great. I think everyone out there feels it’s been a little stagnant with just the two manufacturers and having someone new come into the championship next year really seems to have re-energised everyone – particularly the fanbase. Everyone’s quite excited to see how it’s going to shake out. There’s a lot of Nissan fans out there already, and they’re really impatient to see the Nissan on track next year.
RB: When will you get down to testing the new car?
RK: At the moment we’ve built one chassis but we’re still designing the engine and the aero-kit, so it won’t be until after the middle of the year that we get to test the Car of the Future. That’s pretty much where everyone else is as well. All teams are still very early on in the build process because obviously the rules means it’s an all-new chassis whichever manufacturer you’re with. Originally we were hoping to test in August but that might get pushed back depending on the progress we’re making with the championship. We’ve got to focus on 2012 rather than 2013 – so it’s going to be difficult to push a lot of our resources into building a whole new infrastructure for Car of the Future.
RB: Ford vs Holden is a particularly Aussie thing that’s never really translated to the outside world. How would you describe that rivalry?
RK: I guess the Holden and Ford rivalry is something that’s been quite strong in the past but is probably not quite so strong now as it was five or ten years ago with the manufacturer support dropping off a little bit. But it certainly is still there – and in particular for the fanbase: they’re either Ford or Holden and they have a red-hot go.
RB: Which is the bigger draw: the season championship or the Bathurst 1000? Does Bathurst overpower everything else?
RK: Well, Bathurst – the event itself – it really is the pinnacle of Australian motorsport. There’s a constant argument about whether it should be part of our championship or not. A lot of drivers, or some drivers at least, think it’s more important and a bigger achievement to have a Bathurst win against your name than it is a championship title.
RB: The V8 Championship doesn’t go over the top for new technology and driver aids – are you a fan of driving something that doesn’t have the tech that might be seen, for example, in DTM?
RK: The Championship hasn’t stood still, there have been changes. For example we’ve gone from a H-pattern to a sequential shift which is a big, big change. Back with the H-pattern you really needed to be an artist rather than a driver just to make sure you got everything right. When we changed to a sequential it meant you just got to be more of an animal and rip through it. In saying that, because we’re righthand drive it’s allowed a lot of American and European drivers to come in and not have problems with using the gearbox.
I think it’s crucial to have the focus on the drivers. I would hate to think that we would eventually go to a car that has traction control and all that. It’s very important for the driver to do that because this way, the better driver you are, the closer you’ll be to the front. Moving to Car of the Future, the cars will be a little more technologically advanced and that’s a good thing – but it’s more on the digital side of things with the in-car cameras and live data to the TV. It really just allows our sport to be projected to the audience at home a little bit better than it has now. It’s not about driving aids.