12-Hour Nissan heads to New Zealand

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IN A BIG week for Australian fans of the Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3, Nissan Australia has confirmed that their Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour contender will head across the Tasman for a pair of races later this year.

The manufacturer has confirmed that their GT-R – the same car that finished second in this year’s 12-Hour in February – will tackle the final two rounds of this year’s Australian Endurance Championship to be held at Hampton Downs and Highlands Motorsport Park, respectively.

The news comes just days after it was announced that ex-Supercars driver Brett Hobson and Wall Racing would combine to enter a pair of privately run, ex-US based GT-Rs in the 2017 race.

Nissan Motorsport Supercars Championship driver Michael Caruso will lead the driver line-up for the two Kiwi events. It will be Caruso’s debut in the Australian GT Championship and his first race aboard a Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3.

Caruso will drive with 2015 Nissan PlayStation GT Academy International winner Matt Simmons, who has spent 2016 racing a GT-R NISMO GT3 in the Blancpain GT Endurance Cup in Europe.

The driver line-up will give Nissan a strong chance of success, while keeping with the Australian GT Championship’s ‘Pro-Am’ philosophy – Caruso as the ‘Professional’ (FIA Gold Driver Ranking) and Simmons as the ‘Amateur’ (FIA Bronze Driver Ranking).

The #35 Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 will be entered as ‘Nissan GT Academy Team Kelly’ and run by the Kelly family-owned Nissan Motorsport race team.

“It’s great to confirm that the Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 will be making its Australian GT Championship debut,” said Nissan Motor Co. (Australia) Managing Director and CEO Richard Emery.

“Australians have seen the GT-R in action at the Bathurst 12 Hour for the past three years. It’s exciting that New Zealand motorsport fans will now have a chance to watch this spectacular car in action.

“Back in 1991 the Nissan GT-R R32 claimed a win and a third place in its two races across the Tasman, setting a high benchmark for this 2016 effort.”

The entry will also celebrate 25 years since Nissan entered the Nissan GT-R R32 in events at Pukekohe and Wellington after winning both the Australian Touring Car Championship and Bathurst 1000 in 1991.

Simmons’ addition to the factory squad comes just 12 months after he won the Nissan GT Academy and earned a drive in the Blancpain GT Endurance Cup driving a factory Nissan.

Recent reports in the Australian media have linked the Brisbane driver to a potential Nissan Bathurst 12 Hour campaign.

“It’d be a dream come true because for me, it’s one thing to become a professional racing driver, but it’s another thing to be able to do it at home,” Simmons told Fairfax Media’s Mark Fogarty in August.

“Anybody in sport wants to compete at home in front of their family and friends and fans. That home support is something special and to get that opportunity, if [Nissan’s racing and performance road car division] and Nissan Australia were able to direct that towards me, I would be all hands in the air to want to do it.”

Nissan are yet to officially confirm their plans for the 2017 Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour.