Nick Percat has explained how he unknowingly turned down DJR Team Penske and stayed with Walkinshaw Racing for his step into the Supercars Championship as a full-timer.
Percat joined the Walkinshaw organisation in 2007 and, but for a period on the outer during 2013, remained there until the end of 2014 before moves to Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport and his current home of Brad Jones Racing.
His run as a full-time driver at Walkinshaw Racing lasted only a season, however, after fellow South Australian James Rosenberg opted not to re-enter his Racing Entitlements Contract for the 2015 season.
Prior to that promotion, from co-driver duties for Garth Tander in one of the factory Holden Racing Team entries, Percat had grown impatient at seemingly being stymied in his rise up the Supercars ladder.
While his contemporaries from the highly regarded crop of 2012 Super2 Series contenders in Scott McLaughlin, Chaz Mostert, and Scott Pye had already found a way into the Supercars Championship in the following season, the 2011 Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 winner moved sideways into Carrera Cup in 2013.
Despite being recalled to the Walkinshaw ranks for the Pirtek Enduro Cup, Percat found himself entertaining an offer from Dick Johnson Racing for the 2014 season
“During (2013), I was trying to get into the main game because it felt like I kept getting delayed, I couldn’t get in, (Russell) Ingall (then in Walkinshaw’s Supercheap Auto Racing entry) bloody wouldn’t retire…” he told the V8 Sleuth podcast.
“I saw Scotty McLaughlin get into main game, I saw Chaz get in, Scotty Pye get in, and that’s when I ended up in Porsche.
“I’m thinking, ‘What is going on here? Why am I not getting a chance to get in the main series?’ and I had offers from other teams and never, ever took one up, and then Ryan Story and Dick were quite forward in wanting me to drive for them, which was seriously cool.
“The opportunity to drive for Dick Johnson just blew my mind; you could go from driving at Walkinshaw, such an iconic team, to then driving for the most iconic Ford (team) would be pretty crazy.
“We got a long way down the track in terms of time up there, and I think it was at Gold Coast 600… I don’t know how it played out but Ryan Walkinshaw got wind of it and then somehow put together this fourth car deal for me to stay at Walkinshaw.”
DJR signed Scott Pye and David Wall for the 2014 season, during which Team Penske bought into the operation and laid the foundation for the resurgence of the long-running Queensland team.
Talks between the two parties had, however, taken almost a year to come to fruition, meaning that Percat was even given hints as to the possibility that he would potentially become a Penske driver.
“I literally had the terms of agreement with DJR (when Walkinshaw made its offer) and actually – this is how ridiculous it is – the whole time they kept saying to me, ‘We’re going to be aligned to an American team and it’s going to be big,’” he continued on the V8 Sleuth podcast.
“I’m like, ‘You need to tell me who it is; I need to know before I commit to leaving this other team who are offering me a drive now in the main series, and who have got me to this point.
“’You need to tell me who we’re going to be working with; if you want me to buy in, I need to know.’”
With the Penske talks otherwise kept secret, Percat opted to remain loyal to the team which had spotted him in Aussie Racing Cars at the end of 2006 and backed him through Formula Ford and Super2.
“They (Story and Johnson) couldn’t tell me because it wasn’t all agreed on and it wasn’t all finalised, and then I said, ‘Sorry, I’m going to stay at WR.’
“I’m pretty sure Dick got a little bit upset with me – I know he did – (but) Ryan was pretty good, (he) understood, and I still talk to them; I still tried to get back in there after my LDM stint.
“When (the Penske acquisition) all got announced, I’m like, ‘You have to be kidding me. What?! Why couldn’t they just give me something?’”
The 31-year-old remains philosophical about the path that he chose to take, alluding to the probability that he would have endured similar struggles to those experienced by Marcos Ambrose and then Pye as Team Penske established itself in the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship.
“That was that, but it was a long way down the track,” added Percat.
“They were really good to deal with and talk to, and I think Ryan Story does a great job, and Dick, and always in my head I’ll thank them for the opportunity that they were going to give me, my first main game start, which would have been seriously cool.
“Obviously (it would have been) a lot different outlook to what Scotty McLaughlin walked into – it would have been what Scotty Pye walked into; a very green team, trying to develop with (Marcos) Ambrose, and all that kind of thing – so it wouldn’t have been straight into what they’ve got now.
“But, it’s still pretty cool, the fact that I got that close to driving with DJR and I didn’t even know it was with Penske. Fantastic.”
Percat will remain at Brad Jones Racing at least until the end of 2022 under a two-year contract extension announced during February’s Superloop Adelaide 500.