The Unbelievable Story of Michael Caruso and the Nissan that Led the Championship at the Adelaide 500
The Adelaide 500 has always been a race filled with excitement and memorable moments in the history of the Repco Supercars Championship. However, there was one particular year when the championship standings were led by an unexpected contender – a V8-engined Nissan. And now, this iconic car is set to make a comeback at this year’s VAILO-backed event in South Australia.
In 2016, Michael Caruso emerged as the unlikely championship leader after the Adelaide 500. It was a year when the Nissan squad entered the season with an unchanged aerodynamic package, which was a first for the factory-backed team since their return to the championship in 2013. This marked a significant milestone for the team, as they had previously undergone rehomologations in both 2014 and 2015.
Caruso’s Nissan Altima was the flagship car for the team, proudly showcasing both the factory NISMO colors and logos, as well as the company’s traditional #23. The Altimas proved to be strong contenders throughout the weekend, with Rick and Todd Kelly securing a spot on the fourth row for the opening sprint race and finishing in the top 10. Caruso also made progress, gaining one position to finish 13th.
In the second race, Caruso led the Nissan quartet, starting from sixth place and maintaining his position until the checkered flag. The weekend was not without its challenges, as heavy rain and thunderstorms swept through the circuit just as the 250km Sunday race was about to begin. The race started behind the Safety Car, and Caruso took the opportunity to make an early pit stop for fuel.
This strategic move turned out to be pivotal. As the race progressed, Caruso made steady progress, moving up into the top 10 as the track began to dry and the field switched to slick tires. However, the weather conditions quickly changed again, with another light shower and a crash triggering another Safety Car period.
Initially, Caruso chose not to pit during the caution, which elevated him to fourth place. But the increasing rain made it clear that slicks were not the ideal tire choice. Caruso and several other cars pitted as the race restarted, temporarily dropping him to 16th position. However, he quickly made his way back up to the cusp of the top 10 as the rest of the field switched back to wet tires.
The rain continued to intensify, and on Lap 36, the Safety Car was deployed once again. This time, teams began to anticipate a potential red flag due to the worsening conditions. Crucially, Caruso’s engineer, Steven Todkill, brought the #23 Altima in for fuel drop compliance on both Lap 36 and 37. This move initially dropped Caruso to 17th position but put him in a favorable position once the race was red-flagged on Lap 42.
Despite the unpredictable nature of the weather, the race was eventually restarted for a few laps before reaching its time-certain finish. Most of the cars ahead of Caruso pitted before the chequered flag, elevating him to a second-place finish behind the upset race winner, Nick Percat. Furthermore, penalties for the two DJR Team Penske cars for not complying with the fuel rule further boosted Caruso’s position to second place.
Caruso’s unexpected podium finish and consistent performances throughout the weekend earned him the most points for the round and propelled him into the championship lead. This was a significant achievement for Nissan, as it was the first time a Nissan had led the championship since Mark Skaife’s championship-winning season in 1992. It also marked the first time that Kelly Racing, in its original Holden iteration and after rebranding as Nissan Motorsport, had topped the standings.
The remarkable turnaround in Caruso’s fortunes was a stark contrast to the previous year when he faced a disastrous start to the season, ending Saturday in Adelaide with a trashed race car and a negative points tally. However, with determination and teamwork, Caruso and his engineer were able to overcome the challenges and produce outstanding results.
Caruso’s triumph at the Adelaide 500 was just one chapter in the racing life of this iconic Altima. The car later secured victory at Hidden Valley in 2016 and was also raced by Simona De Silvestro for the Nissan squad. Now, it is set to grace the Adelaide streets once again, as standout rookie Cameron McLeod will take the wheel in the Super3 category.
This remarkable story showcases the unpredictable nature of motorsport and the resilience of both drivers and teams. Michael Caruso’s unexpected rise to the championship lead in 2016 is a testament to the hard work, determination, and collaboration within the Nissan Motorsport team. As they prepare to return to the Adelaide 500, they bring with them the spirit of overcoming adversity and striving for greatness on the race track.