If Nissan needed a reason to stay in Supercars beyond this season, Michael Caruso gave it to them with a breakthrough victory in Darwin.
The Altima driver snapped a three-year drought for the manufacturer – and a seven-year winless streak of his own – in the opening race of the round at Hidden Valley Raceway on Saturday.
He outgunned Holden’s new series leader, Jamie Whincup, and Ford rival Chaz Mostert, who finished second and third.
Not since Winton in May 2013, their first season back in the championship, have Nissan tasted triumph.
And not since 2009 has Caruso stood on the top step of the podium – coincidentally, also in the Top End.
It couldn’t have come at a better time for his team, who are yet to secure factory backing from Nissan for 2017.
Co-owner and driver Rick Kelly suggested on Friday that results would get a deal across the line, and Caruso delivered 24 hours later.
“It’s a great result – not just for me personally but it’s obviously important to get this win with what’s going on in the background with the team,” he said.
“I know how much Richard (Emery, Nissan Australia CEO) and Mitchell (Wiley, sponsorship manager) from Nissan wanted this and how important this is for the next few months or whenever it happens.
“We’ve been working so hard.
“It’s something that I promised the team. I knew we were very close to making this result and it’s great that we made it all work today.”
Caruso started the race from second on the grid and showed nice early pace, jumping Holden’s pole sitter, Shane van Gisbergen, during an eventful opening lap.
Van Gisbergen regained the lead on lap five following a safety car, which was triggered by a stray door from Garth Tander’s Holden Racing Team Commodore.
But the Kiwi copped a drive-through penalty for an early move at the restart, costing him potential victory.
He finished 16th.
Caruso’s triumph brings to 10 the number of different winners from 12 races this season, and hands Whincup the championship lead.
Ford’s Mark Winterbottom had held a 27-point buffer at the top of the standings but his ninth place wasn’t enough to keep him at the summit.
He slips down to second overall – 18 points behind Whincup.
“It’s a long way, so we don’t look at the championship,” six-time title winner Whincup said.
“I’d certainly rather be leading than anywhere else, so I’ll take that. Let’s see if the old man can do something tomorrow.”
The round’s final race begins at 1.30pm (2pm AEST) on Sunday.