Profile IT: Tech on the starting grid with Nissan's V8 supercars

How Nissan Australia’s V8 supercar division uses technology to help its drivers and attract fans

Nissan V8 drivers Michael Caruso and James Moffat.

Nissan V8 drivers Michael Caruso and James Moffat.

When drivers slip behind the wheel of their V8 supercars this season, they will already have a good indication of how the car will perform thanks to behind the scenes computer modelling.

Over the past 10 years, more investment has been made into simulation and computer-based testing in order to reduce costs.

The simulations are so accurate that V8 race teams know if they have won or lost the race two weeks before it occurs.

Nissan V8 supercar driver Todd Kelly, started racing professionally in 2001 and says that back then it was common place for drivers to test the cars before a race but fuel and tyre costs were “horrific”.

“The [V8] teams who had the more established budget were able to do more testing while other teams fell behind. For cost cutting, it was common sense to say that the teams only got six days per year of racing.”

At Nissan V8’s headquarters in Melbourne data engineers are allocated to the four V8 cars which will race around Australia and New Zealand in 2013. The engineers use an Excel-based spreadsheet to enter the car’s figures such as rear and front suspension points.

“We also use simulation software where we can simulate the car driving around the circuit,” Kelly says.

“From that balance sheet, we can enter the changes into the simulator program and test the simulation right up to the minute we go out.”

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According to Kelly, the simulations are so accurate that V8 race teams know if they have won or lost the race two weeks before it occurs.

“It’s a computer-based race and you now go to the track with the data you have prepared two weeks before,” he says.

In the lead up to a race meet such as the Eastern Creek test, the Nissan V8 group has a number of meetings to discuss what the weather is going to be like and most importantly what engineering changes need to be made to the cars.

“That process happens during every round of the V8 competition. We get back, debrief and start on the next round.”

Performance data also comes into play when Kelly and the other drivers are undertaking practice sessions. For example, the engineers provide him with live telemetry data of the car.

“The engineers can see if we’re losing three tenths of a second in a track corner. We then use this information to improve our performance for the next lap.”

Social drivers

Like every sports business in Australia, Nissan V8 is harnessing the power of social media to attract and engage fans.

“We’re in a good industry in that content is very rich. We have things coming in left right and centre so it’s a matter of giving the fans what they want to see,” says social media manager Samantha Gallagher.

This means posting videos from behind the scenes in the engineering facilities and also encouraging the Nissan V8 drivers onto Twitter.

“Twitter seems to be coming on really strong with the Aussie public which is good to see,” she says.

“One thing that we are looking into doing is a question and answer session with the drivers on Twitter, and that could happen both prior to and after the rounds in Australia and Texas.”

By the numbers
On Twitter, Nissan Motorsport Australia has 9498 followers
On Facebook, it has 16,954 likes.

Gallagher adds that video content will be a key focus this year with plans to post more videos on YouTube.

Nissan V8 also uses Facebook to share photos and content from events that the V8s take part in, such as the Melbourne Formula One race in mid-March.

While there has traditionally been a strong rivalry between Ford and Holden fans, Gallagher says it has only seen a small amount of trolling directed at Nissan online.

“We have been able to manage it by contacting the trolls and giving our point as to whether or not they are saying something bad about our team,” she says.

To help combat abusive behaviour, Nissan Motorsport has come up with online road rules for its fans.

“This outlines the type of behaviour we expect within those social media spheres,” says Nissan Australia digital and community manager Heath Walker.

“People are on those sites for enjoyment and we want to ensure that this continues.”

Drivers are also made aware of their social media obligations and Nissan Motorsports has risk management guidelines in place for corporate and personal profiles.

Plans are underway to use Google Plus Hangouts for chats with the drivers throughout the 2013 season.

“We want to provide that access to the fans so they can ask questions from month to month about the team,” Walker says.

Nissan Australia has already made it into the top five Google Plus automotive pages when Todd Kelly conducted a tour of the Nissan V8 car via a live stream.

Live streaming of the V8 races is managed by Channel 7 and the V8 Supercar Australia organisers.

“The way the Internet is heading, most content is either picture or video format and it’s predicted by Google themselves that by 2016 95 per cent of content will be video or imagery,” he says.

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Tags nortonV8 supercarsMichael CarusoJames MoffatTodd KellyNissan V8

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