Hometown Holden hero Nick Percat’s shock victory at the Clipsal 500 this afternoon fulfilled a lifelong dream for the local boy who attended his first race at the Adelaide parklands circuit only months after he was born.
It was also a huge swing in fortune for the 27-year old who missed V8 Supercars races late last season because of a life-threatening blood infection and was unable to start yesterday afternoon’s race when mechanical issues stopped his SP Tools-backed Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport Holden Commodore VF on the out-lap.
“I think everyone wants to win the Clipsal 500,” he said. “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.”
Percat has now won two V8 Supercars races – and they have been the right ones; his first was as co-driver to Garth Tander in a factory Holden Racing Team Commodore at the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 in 2011, while today’s Clipsal victory was his first driving solo and was delivered for a privateer team that is run on a tiny budget by its quadriplegic owner.
“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,” Percat reflected.
“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.”
Percat, who is staying with his parents in their northern Adelaide home this weekend, revealed how his father – who is one of three generations of family members to work at the Holden manufacturing plant in Adelaide when the Commodore is built – took him to the Formula One Australian Grand Prix at the circuit in 1988.
Later he watched his childhood touring car heroes including Tander – who finished third today – from a tree at turn 11.
He is the first South Australian to be Clipsal champion.
“It was a crazy emotion,” he said. “I have watched so many cars come to that Clipsal turn 11 corner on Sunday to win and to stand up on the podium is unbelievable.
“And the following and encouragement I have had from the Adelaide fans this week has been amazing.
“It is pretty good to repay them and Adelaide for the win.”
A key to Percat’s victory in a race twice drowned in heavy rain was his engineer Chris Stuckey’s call to get the minimum mandatory 140 litre fuel dump completed as quickly as possible.
That ensured he could sprint to the line without having to pit for fuel when the race re-started for a final four-lap dash.
He managed to grab the victory despite his windscreen wiper failing early in the race and then battling conditions that swing from atrocious to dry and then to torrential.
“When it was just a flood of water coming down the windscreen I nearly crashed into the wall on the inside of the corner because I couldn’t see where the apex was.
“Even in the dry going out on the slicks was pretty challenging, but as soon as it started to get wet again it was a bit of an unknown.
“You would hit a bit of a white line and be nearly be backwards into the wall. It was pretty adventurous.”
Tander, who was a mentor to Percat for much of his career, paid tribute to his winning performance.
“He goes alright,” Tander smiled. “I think it's fantastic. 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.”