And the race at Nissan at this moment is white-knuckled.
As one of Nissan’s independent outsider directors, the motorhead turned corporate bigwig has been a key mover in many of the changes during a turbulent post-Carlos Ghosn era.
Ihara chairs the newly created compensation committee, a flashpoint of reform for the automaker, and was widely reported to be a driving force in pushing out former CEO Hiroto Saikawa.
Ihara also sits on the nomination committee that picks Nissan’s future leaders. And she is an adviser at meetings of the Alliance Operating Board that governs business projects with partners Renault and Mitsubishi.
Ihara acknowledged to Automotive News that Nissan and the alliance have been through tough times since Ghosn’s November 2018 arrest for alleged financial misconduct. But she said the partners are making progress on new midterm business
plans to be released around May and that Nissan is poised for a “revolutionary” change for the better.
“I think we have hit the bottom and now we are moving in the right direction,” Ihara said.
Details of the company’s “new way forward” aren’t ready for release, she said. But one element will be restoring trust through better governance, and another will be a wave of new products, she added.
“Nissan is expected to deliver many attractive automobiles,” Ihara said. “These are all exciting; I tested some of them already.”
Ihara should know. As a pro driver, she has an eye for what’s hot and what’s not.
Over a career spanning two decades, she entered 97 races in 70 countries, competing in everything from the 24 Hours at Le Mans and the World Endurance Championship to Formula Three. She has piloted an open-wheeled Dallara F305, a Lola B12/80 and a Ligier JS P2, to name a few, according to DriverDatabase. And in 2013, Ihara, now 46, was the top-ranked woman in the World Endurance Championship.
Over time, she also became an international advocate for women in motorsports and was a brand ambassador for Nissan and Mazda. Among her duties was wowing journalists with stomach-churning laps up the banked curve of Nissan’s Oppama proving ground in a GT-R.