Percat: Why the stick had to stay in Supercars

Nick Percat. Picture: Pace Images

Walkinshaw Andretti United’s Nick Percat says Supercars has made the right decision to ditch paddle shift and automatic throttle blip.

The means by which drivers will change gear has been a hot topic since Supercars released a Gen3 electronics tender which stipulated the need for steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters and automatic throttle blip.

In moving to the new system, an electronic actuator was to replace a manual lever actuator, removing the need for drivers to heel-and-toe.

Indeed, the Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang prototypes debuted with the technology, the latter featuring both paddle shifters and a faux lever shifterwhich drew a terse response.

Two-time Supercars champion Shane van Gisbergen was vehemently against the move, despite his Triple Eight Race Engineering team being responsible for the design and build of the Chevrolet Camaro.

Now, Supercars has decided it will keep the gearbox in its current configuration as it appears in the Gen2 cars heading into Gen3 next year.

Ultimately, for Percat, the decision boiled down to the removal of heel-and-toe, which he said is a skill set that separates the top drivers from the rest.

“For me, personally, it is such a skillset and art to slow a Supercar down well,” Percat told Speedcafe.com.

“The mistakes you saw at Adelaide, Turn 9, trying to go from sixth to first or second depending on the engine you had in it, the team you were running with – the heel-toe, controlling the rear locking, all of that and matching the revs is such a bloody hard thing to do.

“I think that separates the top five percent from the rest of the field. I feel like everyone is an exceptionally good driver, but over the years it has always been spoken about how well the champions stop the car, be that Garth [Tander] or Shane [van Gisbergen], those kind of guys.

“It was always spoken about that the art is how to slow it down, not how they get on the throttle. It was a big thing for me to keep that in the cars and keep that required skillset to be fast in a Supercar.

“It’s mainly about not having auto-blip, not having those assists in the car. Ninety percent of people could jump in a GT3 car. If you put a witches hat on the track and said ‘just push the brake pedal as hard as you possibly can when you get to that witches hat’, they’re going to slow it down as well as any professional or amatuer.

“It was very important for the category to keep the uniqueness of our cars. We have guys who come over from Europe from a GT3 background or IndyCar background or whatever it is, and the first thing they say is how hard it is to perfect the braking in the car and use the gearbox.

“It needed to happen. So I’m pretty happy and I’m sure a lot of my peers are of the same opinion that it’s really good that it’s still in.”

Ultimately, several contributing factors brought about the demise of paddle shift and auto-blip.

Newly appointed Supercars CEO Shane Howard said feedback from fans, teams, and drivers was taken into consideration when making the decision.

On-track testing with paddle shift and auto-blip wasn’t trouble-free either. As Speedcafe.com first reported, the technical complexity of the system was a significant reason behind ditching it.

Asked whether paddle shift and auto-blip might have killed his enthusiasm for Supercars, Percat replied, “One hundred percent.

“It’s already so hard to show everybody on TV how hard they are to drive or how fast they are going, so the last thing you need is for the onboard camera to come on during the race and you look like it’s no different to driving to the supermarket.

“It’s important we have animation inside the cockpit for the entertainment side of things as a category.

“At the end of the day, we are trying to provide entertainment to people switching on the TV and to the people sitting on the sidelines at the race track.

“It’s a very good thing that the category has decided on keeping it. It simply creates more theatre.”

Gen3 prototype testing is set to continue at Winton Motor Raceway on February 22.

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