Rick Kelly’s retirement from the Australian Supercars Championship ends almost two decades of full-time driving in the category. Here’s a rundown of a career that includes a series championship and 13 race wins.
Taking the usual pathway through karting and open wheelers to touring cars, Rick Kelly’s major results at a national level included finishing runner-up in the 2000 Australian Formula Ford Championship, then securing the CAMS Gold Star in the Australian Drivers’ Championship, driving the Birrana Racing Formula Holden in 2001.
Making his Bathurst 1000 debut as an 18-year-old in the same year, Rick partnered Nathan Pretty in the K-Mart Racing Team (HSV Dealer Team) VX Commodore, qualifying in 19th and finishing the race in 14th place.
Young Lion and a Bathurst double
Joining Supercars full-time in 2002 with the Holden Young Lions squad, Rick secured his first race podium at Pukekohe that year, plus a string of Top Ten placings in the back half of the season.
Switching to the K-Mart Racing Team for 2003, Rick partnered Greg Murphy for a memorable Bathurst 1000 win, then achieved his first solo wins a year later. Victories at Eastern Creek, Hidden Valley, Symmons Plains and a second Bathurst 1000 win in 2004 saw the 21-year-old finish that year’s Supercars Championship in sixth place.
A Lean Year, then a Championship
When the K-Mart Racing Team was rebranded as the HSV Dealer team for 2005, Rick remained with the squad but went without a win. That changed in 2006, and while Rick secured only one victory, a strong of podiums and Top Ten finishes saw him claim the championship by 37 points from Craig Lowndes.
Two wins and 15 podiums weren’t enough for Rick to go back-to-back in 2007, finishing fourth in the championship behind Garth Tander, Jamie Whincup and Lowndes.
Kelly Racing and the Nissan Years
Rick’s wins became more sporadic from 2008, with the switch to an “in-house” Kelly Racing operation in 2009 running Jack Daniel’s-sponsored VE Commodores having no major effect on results, either, but in 2011, Rick did score wins at Hidden Valley, the Hamilton street circuit and Sandown to finish the championship in sixth place.
In 2013, Kelly Racing signed on with Nissan to race the Altima L33 under Supercars’ Car of the Future regulations that also saw Volvo and Mercedes-Benz join the category. Rebranded as Nissan Motorsport, the Kelly’s acquisition of two additional Racing Entitlement Contracts saw the squad expand to four cars, with Rick and older brother Todd joined initially by Michael Caruso and James Moffat.
The first two years at Nissan Motorsport were bleak, though. Despite a runner-up result at Bathurst in 2014 (with Moffat and Taz Douglas), podiums through 2015 and the team’s first race win in 2016, the Altima L33 was largely uncompetitive against the rest of the Supercars competition.
In 2018, the last year of Nissan Motorsport, Rick achieved a race win at Winton, his first since Sandown in 2011. Nissan’s withdrawal from Supercars at the end of that year saw the team return to Kelly Racing identification in 2019 but retain the Altima L33 before a switch to the Ford Mustang this year and trimming the team back to two cars.
Switch to Ford and the Finale
As Rick indicated in his farewell video, learning and developing a new car is hard enough, but was even harder under COVID-19 conditions that forced Victorian teams like Kelly Racing to “hub” interstate, away from their workshop, for more than three months in order to compete.
Rick’s race highlights for 2020 were sixth place finishes at Sydney Motorsport Park and The Bend, but finishes outside the Top Ten were more frequent. Outpointed by team mate Andre Heimgartner, who finished 14th overall, Rick’s final full season in Supercars ended with 16th place in the championship.
As a full-time driver, Rick Kelly leaves Supercars with a personal tally 13 race wins and 57 podiums, 12 pole positions, 2 Bathurst wins and one Supercars Championship.
Rick’s replacement at Kelly Racing for the 2021 Repco Supercars Championship had yet to be announced at time of writing.
Photos: Russell Colvin