Nick Percat will make his 150th Supercars start at Hidden Valley this weekend, still pinching himself about winning the Bathurst 1000 as a rookie in just his third.
Percat took out the Great Race with the Holden Racing Team in 2011, having been thrown into a high-profile role as Garth Tander’s co-driver.
At the time, the now-Brad Jones Racing driver was just 23 years old and contesting his second season in the Dunlop Super2 Series.
The South Australian was picked up as a junior by Walkinshaw Racing in 2007 while racing in the Australian Formula Ford Championship, a title he won in ’09.
Percat finished fourth in Super2 in 2010 as a rookie with Jay Motorsport, and then moved into a Walkinshaw-run program for ’11.
That 2011 campaign was paired with the Tander HRT co-drive, the Phillip Island and Bathurst enduros just Percat’s second and third outings in the main game.
His first came in 2010 alongside Andrew Thompson in a Bundaberg-backed Walkinshaw Commodore at Phillip Island, deputising for Aussie international Ryan Briscoe who raced at Bathurst.
The following October, the spotlight was firmly on Super2 rivals Percat and Thompson in their respective roles supporting Tander and Triple Eight’s Jamie Whincup.
Tander and Percat finished fourth at Phillip Island, the youngster doing plenty of heavy lifting in his first stint after stalling and having to start from pitlane.
Their run at Mount Panorama produced the ultimate result, Tander holding out Craig Lowndes to win by just 0.2917 seconds, the race’s fourth-closest finish and second if you exclude intra-team formations.
Percat duly became just the second rookie winner after Belgian ex-Formula 1 racer Jacky Ickx in 1977 alongside Allan Moffat.
“I still pinch myself,” Percat says today of the Bathurst victory, which came despite the rookie clouting the wall at Griffins Bend mid-race.
“It’s pretty crazy that you can win it at your first go, driving for the factory team.
“It was pretty incredible, especially with the fanbase up at Bathurst for the Holden Racing Team.
“My great-grandfather, grandad and dad all worked for Holden in Adelaide building the road cars.
“For dad to have his son driving for the factory Holden Racing Team I think was pretty special for him, and obviously to win it is incredible.”
That success was followed by third-place finishes as the lead driver at Bathurst in 2014 and ’16, for Walkinshaw Racing and Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport.
“I still pinch myself, I’ve had some pretty good results up there over the last few years,” he added of Bathurst.
“I think at one point I was three out of six races I was on the podium. I do enjoy going up there.”
Percat had to wait until 2014 for a full-time main game drive, spending a year in Carrera Cup after three in Super2.
He finished 12th in the 2014 standings but was out of a seat at the end of the campaign when Walkinshaw cut its operation from four Commodores to the factory two of HRT.
A seat with LDM, run by Percat’s former Formula Ford team-mate Lucas Dumbrell, offered a full-time lifeline but results across two season with the minnow outfit were lean.
It did though, include a second Supercars victory, in the storm-lashed and shortened Sunday leg of the 2016 Adelaide 500, and a third Bathurst podium later that year.
“The best race I think was that Adelaide 500 win with Lucas Dumbrell and his team,” Percat said of taking out his home race.
“It was pretty crazy, there was a lot of talk about our fuel and all of that stuff.
“But at the end of the day there was a handful of laps at the back of the Safety Car and I finished third on the road, I didn’t have to worry about the two guys in-front of me and I drove away from the rest of the field with Fabs [Coulthard].
“It’s not like we were slow or anything like that, we deserved to be at the front; we put a lot of work in all day to make sure we were in that position.
“That Adelaide 500 win’s a pretty big one.”
Percat heads to Darwin and his milestone race 12th in the standings, having taken a pair of podiums at Albert Park in March.
The 29-year-old’s first podium with BJR came at Hidden Valley 12 months ago, with third in the Saturday race.
While his path to 150 starts was not the smoothest - Scott McLaughlin made his Super2 debut three months later and has 181 Supercars starts to his name at 25 - Percat is relishing racing in the series.
“I definitely enjoy racing at Hidden Valley, if I can have my 150th start anywhere, it’s probably not a bad one,” he said.
“I think Supercars is the most-competitive category in the world. Perth, for example, I was on the wrong side of less than half-a-tenth in qualifying.
“It’s pretty crazy to think that we could have 26 cars, different drivers, different set-ups and we all land on the same lap time.
“This category’s too competitive to turn your back on and go somewhere else.
“It’s very satisfying when you do a good job and the team does a good job. If I can get anywhere near how long [Craig] Lowndesey’s been in the sport it’d be seriously incredible.
“I never thought I’d be in the main series Supercars, so to have 150, if I can get to 300, 400, that’d be like a dream come true. We’re all lucky, we all get to do what we love.
“I wake up every morning and think ‘I am extremely lucky to do what I do’.”