Showtime: The Nissan Altima V8 Supercar was unveiled yesterday. Photo: Supplied
NISSAN'S all-new Altima V8 Supercar, the first entry in almost two decades that isn't a Ford or a Holden, is almost ready to begin track testing in preparation for its racing debut in March.
The Altima was unveiled in Melbourne on Tuesday, fewer than eight months after the project was approved and design work started.
The $1.5 million machine is the prototype for a four-car, factory-backed team to be run by Kelly Racing under the Nissan Motorsport banner.
The cost of the first Altima V8 Supercar is almost triple that of the existing Ford Falcons and Holden Commodores because it is a new design from the ground up, including a different engine.
''It's quite an expensive car,'' admitted team co-owner and driver Todd Kelly, who has overseen its design and construction.
Kelly and his younger brother Rick, the 2006 V8 champion, will race the lead cars, while one of the other two is set to be steered by James Moffat, the youngest son of V8 legend Allan Moffat. Moffat jnr is switching from Ford folk hero Dick Johnson's team, bringing his car sponsor Norton with him.
Vying for the fourth Nissan seat are Garry Rogers Motorsport's Michael Caruso and sidelined V8 racer Alex Davison, who was Moffat's co-driver in the Sandown 500 and Bathurst 1000.
Nissan is joining V8 Supercars under the Car Of The Future initiative, which opens up the series to other makes, ending the Ford Falcon/Holden Commodore duopoly that started in 1994.
The Altimas will race alongside FG Falcons and new-look VF Commodores, as well as a privately funded three-car Mercedes-Benz E-Class team. It is powered by a locally developed five-litre racing version of the Nissan V8 used in the new Patrol and other overseas models.
Based on the body shape of a new Nissan mid-size sedan that won't go on sale until late next year, the aggressively shaped Altima V8 Supercar is due to have its shakedown at Melbourne's Calder Park Raceway within the next week.
Kelly Racing co-driver David Russell is on standby to conduct the initial test if the Altima is ready before lead driver Rick Kelly returns from this weekend's V8 event at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
The trial run will be followed by straight-line tests to fine-tune the Altima's aerodynamic package ahead of V8 Supercars' run parity testing next month. The performance of the Altima's computer-designed front air dam and rear wing designs will be compared with the aero kits of the Commodore and Falcon to ensure equal levels of downforce and drag.
The trials will be held at the RAAF air base at Sale. The testing will be conducted in secrecy because the Commodore prototype reveals the major restyle of the new VF model, which won't be shown in production form until just before the season-opening Adelaide 500, from March 1-3.
The performance of the Altima's production-based, all-alloy double overhead camshaft V8 will also have to be tuned to be on a par with the Commodore's and Falcon's bespoke racing engines, which are heavier and without the Nissan's freer-breathing, multi-valve cylinder heads.
Slightly smaller and more slippery than the Fords and Holdens, the Altima is a striking reinterpretation of the road-car-on-steroids look of V8 Supercars.
''It's a good-looking thing,'' Todd Kelly said proudly. ''It looks completely different to the Commodore and Falcon. It's a really modern shape.''
Kelly confirmed the shape of the front air dam was ''the most aggressive option'' of the various shapes developed by the team with its computer modelling system.
Nissan is returning to Australian touring car racing after an absence of 20 years, signing a deal with the Kelly brothers to transform their team into Nissan Motorsport.