Jack Perkins heads into this weekend’s Castrol Edge Gold Coast 600 following a much needed confidence boost at Bathurst.
After a rough full-time return to the V8 Supercars Championship, Perkins enjoyed his most competitive showing of the season to date at Bathurst, highlighted by an appearance in the Top 10 Shootout.
The Jeld-Wen Ford was in contention for a podium finish late in the race before a drive-through penalty for contact in pitlane and a tangle with Fabian Coulthard at The Cutting led to a 12th place finish.
The turn of speed comes amid uncertainty over car owner Charlie Schwerkolt’s program for next season.
In this week’s Cafe Chat, Perkins tells Speedcafe.com’s Stefan Bartholomaeus of a challenging 2014 and what the Bathurst performance could mean for his future.
SPEEDCAFE: Jack, what did you take out of Bathurst? It ultimately wasn’t the result you were after, but it must have been good to be running towards the front?
JACK PERKINS: It was really, really encouraging. Never would I have thought going up there that we would have had as good a weekend as we had.
I enjoy the enduros and put in an enormous amount of effort to make sure we did the best job we could and this time, we got a reward for that. From that point of view it was really good.
To be seventh in a qualifying session around the toughest track in Australia where (Jamie) Whincup, the best driver in the field, found the fence was obviously good for self confidence.
SPEEDCAFE: Do you have a clear understanding of why the performance level was such a step up at Bathurst? Was anything different, apart from the track?
PERKINS: It’s probably the first track this year where it was a completely clean slate. The new surface meant it was basically a new race track for everyone.
At most places the guys that ran full-time last year have that base to work off with settings and all those sorts of things, which I hadn’t had until the enduros.
At Sandown our race pace was top 10 and at Bathurst, we lost a bit of time in practice with Cam’s accident, but the FPR cars were competitive up there as a group.
I gave it my all in qualifying and got some reward. There was no more effort put in than what we always do, but we didn’t start behind the eight-ball.
You have to remember as well that we were supposed to have 2 x 1 hour practice sessions on Fridays at most events which got cut to 3 x 20 minutes. Things like that have really hampered up all year.
SPEEDCAFE: Are these FPR cars fundamentally that unique to drive, compared to all the V8 Supercars you’ve driven in the past?
PERKINS: Yes, for sure. The FPR cars haven’t been what I was expecting or hoping.
They’ve been competitive for Mark (Winterbottom), Chaz (Mostert) and Dave (Reynolds), but for me it’s taken a lot of adjusting and a few instances of bad luck have meant we haven’t delivered from a performance point of view.
But I was always hopeful that we could turn our season around with some great performances at the enduros and we can take a lot from Bathurst, where we were in the top 10 for most of the weekend.
The fact that we were running a genuine fifth with 25 to go in the biggest race of the year was a credit to everyone involved.
It was pretty disappointing to get a drive-through that took away what could have been a podium result, because that’s career and life changing stuff, but that’s what happened, unfortunately.
SPEEDCAFE: Have you been trying to take your car in its own direction to suit your style during the year, or has it been more about adapting you to the FPR driver mould?
PERKINS: That’s where you get caught between a rock and a hard place.
We established that the car isn’t completely suited to my liking, but then Mark, Chaz and Dave our out there winning races, so you’re still trying to make their settings work for you.
Then you go down the path of making new settings just for you and then you’re still not winning…
It’s hard because we’re so limited with track time and every time you go on the track you need to perform.
If you make big changes on a Saturday night at a race meeting there’s a 10 minute qualifying session, sometimes with only a set of tyres to play with.
So when you’re bolting in set-ups you don’t have a lot of time to extract the last bit out of it.
That comes back to the scheduling, which was obviously changed this year to try and save the teams money. Whether that’s bad timing or bad luck (for me), I’m not sure.
SPEEDCAFE: You were talking about the self confidence you take from Bathurst. Was that something you’ve struggled with through the year?
PERKINS: For sure. It’s taken me three years to build up my brand after the last disappointing effort in the main series and you’re full of confidence after having good results (in other categories).
Then when you get back in and aren’t delivering results it’s only natural to question yourself.
But I don’t feel we’ve been doing that bad a job this year, it’s just that we haven’t got the results.
When you qualify three or four tenths off pole and you’re 18th on the grid, it’s not that you’re doing a bad job, it’s that other blokes are doing a better job.
In any other category in the world you’d still be third on the grid. We’re so close and just not getting the reward.
That’s the thing with Bathurst. We put the same effort in but actually got some reward for it.
That’s a combination of experience, understanding, using your confidence, working as a team, everything. It all clicked for us at Bathurst.
SPEEDCAFE: Being part of a four-car team you have the benefit of working with three team-mates, but there’s a fairly negative stigma attached with third and fourth cars in this championship. How do you feel it’s worked at FPR?
PERKINS: The four-car program has proven to be difficult for some teams, but I think FPR do it pretty well.
They went to Bathurst with five main series cars and all of those were running in the top nine with 40 or so laps to go.
Whatever team you’re in, you’re only as good as the people around you and FPR have a good program.
Dave’s entry is no different to mine in terms of being a customer entry and he has been much more competitive than me this year.
There’s no doubt what FPR have put in place is a top class, four-car team.
SPEEDCAFE: What can you tell us about next year at this point? What are you realistically aiming to be doing?
PERKINS: I’ve always said I wanted to get through the enduros before talking too much about that.
Before Bathurst I would have been pretty unsure about what my future held, because when you’re running in the 20s in the championship and haven’t delivered the future is not bright.
But I think if nothing else, I’ve proven that I’m quick enough around Bathurst to make for a handy co-driver for someone.
The goal is to maintain a place in the main series, but if that doesn’t happen then I’m not going to be disgruntled.