Flashback: Percat's 'unbelievable' coming of age

  • Repco Supercars Championship
  • |
  • 03/02/2021
  • By James Pavey

Motorsport is a cruel beast, and rarely allows for fairytales. Five years ago, however, Nick Percat was a happy outlier.

The new season marks five years since Percat and Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport kicked off the 2016 championship with one of the most unlikely victories in Supercars history.

Few events carried more weight than the Adelaide 500 for local hero Percat, who attended his first race at the circuit only months after he was born.

Come 2021, and Percat is a proven race winner, and looms as a dark horse in the 2021 Repco Supercars Championship for Brad Jones Racing.

However, his first solo race win, five years after he won the Bathurst 1000 alongside Garth Tander as a rookie, was more turbulent than most.

Heavy rain wreaked havoc from the outset on the Sunday, with the race requiring a delayed start under Safety Car. When Percat met the chequered flag later in the afternoon, only 41 of the scheduled 78 laps had been completed.

The race was restarted five minutes ahead of its time cut-off, with Scott McLaughlin leading Will Davison, Craig Lowndes, Todd Kelly, Lee Holdsworth and Percat.

Percat sailed into the lead at the start of the final lap as those in front were forced to pit in order to complete their mandatory 140 litre fuel drop.

The final lap for Percat was a hairy one, with a racy Fabian Coulthard wresting away the lead at Turn 7.

However, Percat kept his cool and regained top spot, and went on to claim a maiden solo victory, five years after his Bathurst breakthrough.

It would be another four years until he tasted victory, with Percat winning two races across the Sydney Motorsport Park double-header last season.

The race had many scratching their heads, with Coulthard slapped with a 30-second penalty and dropped to 14th as he did not take on the required fuel.

That promoted Michael Caruso to second, with the Nissan driver leaving Adelaide with a remarkable championship lead.

For Percat, though, the win on home soil meant everything.

Just months earlier, he was benched for the final few rounds of 2015 because of a life-threatening blood infection.

A day before his remarkable win, he was unable to start Race 1 when mechanical dramas brought his SP Tools-backed LDM Commodore to a halt on the out-lap.

Percat's father is also one of three generations of family members to work at the Holden manufacturing plant in Adelaide.

"This is unbelievable... I've watched this since I was in a pram. Oh my god," said Percat, who became the first South Australian to win the Adelaide 500.

"It was amazing to battle it out with Fabian at the end there, we're pretty good mates.

"To cross the line here is unbelievable, it is a feeling I will never forget. This is one of the biggest races of the year."

The fairytale didn't stop there, with Percat delivering the victory for the LDM squad which was run on a small budget by its quadriplegic owner.

The team still had the nous to make it work, with Percat's engineer Chris Stuckey making the crucial call to get the minimum mandatory 140 litre fuel dump completed as quickly as possible.

That ensured Percat could dash to the end when the race restarted for the four-lap sprint to the end. In a race punctuated by heavy rain, Percat was hampered when his windscreen wiper failed early in the race.

Reflecting on being bed-ridden towards the end of 2015, Percat couldn't believe how quickly his fortunes had turned around.

"I was thinking back to Homebush last year when Jack Perkins was driving my car and I could barely walk around without having to go back to the hotel and have a lie down and sleep because of the infection," he said.

"It is unreal. I said to Lucas on the Friday that I felt a bit rusty after a few months away especially because these cars are unique to drive.

"But I kept on improving as the weekend went on, the team kept improving and the car kept on improving.

"You can't forecast what happens on days like today, to suddenly go from 15th and get a win."

Several drivers, including Chaz Mostert and Saturday winner James Courtney, crashed out in separate incidents at Turn 8 as rain fell.

The chaos towards the end of the day saw little over 10 minutes elapsing between the red flags being called and the field being sent back onto the track for the restart.

However, despite the drama, Percat and LDM had executed what was required, and Tander was delighted to see his protege clinch a career-defining win.

"He goes alright," Tander said after the race.

"This is not an easy race to win and it's not an easy race to win in those conditions. Just staying on the island today was a challenge.

"So to do all that and to manage what was going on with the race and to manage the weather and to manage all that rules stuff that was going on in the last half of the race says a lot about Nick.

"A lot of of people looked at us strangely when we announced him as a co-driver to go with us to Bathurst in 2011 and that turned out alright.

"It is a great place to win your first solo race. Not bad."

Percat will commence his 2021 Repco Supercars Championship campaign at the Repco Mt Panorama 500. Tickets are on sale now.

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