BREAKING through for a maiden Supercars Championship race win is the realisation of a dream for any young Australian racing driver, let alone the son of a legend.
But eight years on, James Moffat told the V8 Sleuth Podcast that his memories of his first win at Winton back in 2013 remain bittersweet; the gloss having been removed by a maelstrom of controversy.
Moffat posted his first championship race win driving one of the then-new Nissan Altimas in the first season of the Car of the Future era.
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The crux of the controversy that followed was the fuel that his car was using.
Supercars was trialling an E70 fuel blend (70 percent ethanol with 30 percent unleaded) which their in-house testing suggested delivered no power advantage, but helped put the fuel economy of newcomers Nissan and Mercedes on a par with Ford and Holden.
The Norton-backed Altimas of Moffat and teammate Caruso used the E70 fuel on the Friday and Saturday of the Winton round, and the pair brought home a one-two finish in the opening 60/60 sprint race.
The race victory was the first in the championship for a marque other than Ford or Holden since 1993, and returned Nissan to the top step of the podium for the first time since the final appearance of its dominant GT-R in the last race of the 1992 season.
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Moffat’s win also secured he and father Allan a place in a small club, that of fathers and sons who have both won ATCC/SC championship races.
At the time they were the third pair to do so in ATCC/SC history, following Jim and Steven Richards and Dick and Steven Johnson, and the club has added only Larry and Jack Perkins in the years since.
However, politicking from rival teams in the paddock meant it was the first and last time E70 was used in a race, with the Norton Nissans and Maro Engel’s Erebus Mercedes forced to revert to the usual E85 blend for Sunday’s qualifying and racing.
Holden officials went further, publicly claiming that Moffat and Nissan should have been stripped of their results.
When asked if it bothers him that people still talk down that Winton win, Moffat told the V8 Sleuth Podcast: “The short answer is yes and no.
“I say ‘no it doesn’t piss me off’ because I know the facts behind it all and I know that there was no performance gain, but I also understand how people can look from the outside and go ‘there has to be a difference in the fuel.’
“Winning a race at the pinnacle level in Australia, it was a big deal for me.
“No doubt there is a little gloss off it (but) the thing that disappoints me the most about it is that I and the people that were at Nissan at the time, we know how much effort had gone in behind the scenes to get to that point.
“I was more disappointed for all the guys and girls in the team and Todd and Rick who’d poured all this blood, sweat and tears into this program, for it to be a little bit discredited (because) I knew how much it meant.
“Todd Kelly’s a pretty unemotional guy, and when he comes running up to you after you’ve just hopped out of the car and gives you a massive bear hug and you see the reaction on his face … this means a fair bit.”
The irony is that Winton had already loomed as the Altima’s best chance for a good showing – with or without E70.
“We were massively down on straight-line speed, there’s no hiding that,” Moffat recalled.
“That car, aerodynamically, had a lot of drag in it. But of all the circuits you go to in the country, Winton is the only place that you don’t get into top gear.
“If there was ever going to be a circuit that car was going to be competitive at, Winton – on paper – was our best shot.”
The E70 blend was first track-tested in the team’s Altimas at a pre-race test day among Victorian-based Supercars teams.
“They ran that blend of fuel in Todd and Rick’s cars (at the test),” Moffat said.
“Caruso and I thought: ‘well, if there’s anything in it, it’ll go in the Jack Daniels cars anyway!’
“I can’t even remember the wash-up from the test day, but we roll up to the race meeting and Caruso and I find out that they’re going to run it in our cars for the weekend.
“Caruso, being his jovial little self, said: ‘ha, well there’s obviously no performance in it if it’s in our cars!’”
The yellow Nissans’ performance – or relative lack thereof – running E85 fuel on Sunday fanned the flames of controversy.
Moffat had qualified third for Saturday’s 60/60 race but could only muster 25th in qualifying for Sunday’s opening race.
However, rather than being down to the change in fuel, Moffat argues it was simply because the team lost its way on setup.
“We didn’t help ourselves,” he said.
“Our car was clearly competitive but, like anything, it’s never perfect so we were chasing a little bit of setup stuff. We thought ‘if we do this and do that maybe we can find that extra tenth or two.’
“We made some changes and the thing was no good. We qualified nowhere in that first qualifying session, but then we basically bolted the setup we had in for Saturday for the second qually session.
“We weren’t right up the front but we were back in the mix.”
Moffat was the pick of the Altimas in Sunday’s races; he charged from 25th on the grid to 11th in the opening race, then converted a ninth place start into eighth at the finish of the final sprint.