Debuting in V8 Supercars’ Development Series in 2010, Nick Percat spent four long seasons looking for a way into the main game.
With an opportunity to graduate to the top flight at long-time home Walkinshaw Racing coming this season, the 25-year-old is wasting no time in making his mark.
Percat spoke to Speedcafe.com’s Stefan Bartholomaeus after a strong weekend at Pukekohe
SPEEDCAFE: Nick, your performance at Pukekohe wasn’t completely out of the blue, but it was certainly a step up from what we’d seen earlier in the year. What was different in New Zealand?
NICK PERCAT: The style of track probably suited me. It’s a very ‘ballsy’ or committed type of track.
At Clipsal (Adelaide) I did well, which is another track that requires a lot of commitment. It’s not just up to the car.
I think that helps a little bit, but it’s probably just another weekend gelling with my two engineers (race engineer Alex Somerset, formerly the chief designer at Nissan Motorsport, and data engineer Ty Anderson).
We had the speed in qualifying trim at Winton but I knew I had to work on what I do during the race.
I think this weekend we proved that the race pace is equal to the qualifying pace. We pretty much finished where we qualified.
The car rolled out much better than it did at Winton. We really just needed to fine-tune it all weekend.
I think my driving has improved again too. I certainly managed the tyre better than I had done.
I think a combination of things were one or two percent better that made the results a lot better.
There’s still a lot more in me and Alex and Ty in getting the best out of our car.
I’m really looking forward to getting to Perth and building on what we did over the weekend.
SPEEDCAFE: You mention managing the tyres. Alex gives you a lot of feedback about wheelspin numbers during the races. It’s obviously a big focus?
PERCAT: On the weekend I drove the car to a certain number or certain lap time, and any time he (Alex) told me that I could use the tyre up I could drop the pace three or four tenths.
That was really encouraging. We could run with the front guys and then if we needed to I could push on a bit.
The key to success in V8 Supercars with these type of races is looking after the tyre.
FPR did a very good job of it over the weekend. Triple Eight is normally the benchmark but they seemed to struggle.
I thought our car was pretty reasonable, so I think it was a big step up for where I’m at.
SPEEDCAFE: It’s proving very hard for anyone to have week-to-week consistency in this championship at the moment, but do you feel that this can be your level from here on?
PERCAT: I had set the goal at the start of the year that I wanted to run inside the top 10 every weekend.
To be in the top 10 almost all weekend was extremely good for me. It was encouraging.
I said at the start of the year that if I can run between sixth and 12th I’d be happy. We’re a few rounds in and we’re starting to do that now.
SPEEDCAFE: The other element to all that is where you sit relative to your team-mates. You’ve come in and are matching and sometimes beating a couple of former champions already. Is that a surprise?
PERCAT: It’s always a bit of a surprise. To be racing against guys like Garth (Tander), James (Courtney) and Sladey (Tim Slade), to come in and look at the timing monitor and see that you’re ahead of them is very encouraging.
To be battling with Jamie (Whincup) at the end of the race (Sunday’s Race 13) was pretty cool for me as well.
Obviously it wasn’t his best weekend, but to be racing someone of that level and see that he makes mistakes, he’s only human still. It’s pretty cool to see.
I knew I could do it but probably didn’t expect to be showing the qualifying pace that I’ve shown over the other three cars.
I’m just happy with how it’s going. Alex is getting the best out of me in qualifying trim. It’s very encouraging so far.
SPEEDCAFE: There’s been a lot of talk about this team’s ability to run four cars on an equal footing. How has that played out so far, in terms of development bits?
PERCAT: All four of our cars run the same. GT or James can jump in my car and vice versa and there’d be no difference.
The only time when that changes is when there’s new parts available and you need to evaluate it on one car first.
We all play a role in that process and once it is tested and proven it goes across all four. There’s never a moment when I feel like I’m getting a lesser car.
Since (team principal Adrian) Burgess has been here all of that has been much better. I’ve got an extremely good engineer on the fourth car.
It’s not even treated like a fourth car; Burgess has said all along that he doesn’t care which one of us wins or is the first car.
That’s the way he runs and we’ve proved over the weekend that we can match or even beat the red cars.
It’s cool when I beat them, but I know we’ve got the same car, so it’s not like I’m the underdog of the team.
SPEEDCAFE: James Rosenberg obviously showed a lot of faith, committing to you and this program late last year before much of the budget was put together. Do you feel like you’re repaying that faith?
PERCAT: James has been massive for me this year. He’s one of the most genuine, down-to-earth guys in pitlane.
He knows what he wants and for him to put me in a car at Walkinshaw Racing was a big thing for me.
He saw how important it was for me to stay at Walkinshaw Racing. He could have had many other drivers at many other teams.
He put his neck on the line and finally I’m starting to repay him in results. He left New Zealand really happy with how it went.
He’s been with Sladey and saw what he went through in the early days of his career. If I can keep putting it in the top 10 or 12 then he’s going to be happy.
I can’t thank him enough for what he’s done and hopefully it develops into a long term relationship like Slade had with him as my career keeps growing.