Coates Hire Racing’s Nick Percat has endured heartbreak at the Clipsal 500 in Adelaide after a late-race accident took him out of a potential podium-finishing position in the third and final race of the weekend.
The 2011 Bathurst 1000 victor was running a brilliant third on lap 72 of 76 of the V8 Supercar classic event before the #222 Commodore driver tagged the wall at the 230 km/h Turn 8.
After starting 13th on the grid, Percat had steadily moved up the order in the Coates Hire Commodore and was on target for his first podium result as a full-time V8 Supercars Championship driver.
However the dream for the South Australian-born and raised driver was not to be and he finished the 250-kilometre race – and his first Clipsal 500 event - in the run-off area at Turn 9.
“Everything was a lot more positive today than Saturday and we qualified 13th and raced well enough to get ourselves into a podium position,” says Percat.
“I had a very strong car the whole race, so that was good for me. I’m learning all the time with Alex (Somerset) my new engineer and to get the most out of our car.
“To get just a few laps from the finish and ‘DNF’ wasn’t nice. But there are a lot more positives from that race than the one negative of the little mistake that ended it late in the piece.”
Percat’s race pace showed his late-race running position was no fluke, his fastest lap of 1m21.9766s on lap 47 within hundredths of seconds of eventual podium finishers James Courtney, Craig Lowndes and Shane van Gisbergen.
A pair of 39-lap, 125-kilometre races began the weekend on Saturday with V8 Supercar and event organisers splitting the traditional 250-kilometre season-opener into a pair of sprint races, the second finishing in the twilight.
Percat started 25th and last for Race 1 of the championship and managed to take advantage of the dramas of others and some savvy driving to settle into 18th place once the compulsory pit stop for tyres was completed.
However, a clash while attempting to pass Michael Caruso’s Nissan at the Turn 9 hairpin sent him to the pit garage for repairs.
Percat re-joined the race four laps down and ended up running home in 22nd place, picking up a 25-championship point penalty post-race for the contact with the Nissan.
The Coates Hire Racing pilot qualified 13th for the second race and elected to make his compulsory pit stop at the end of lap 5.
After dropping back in the pack, Percat managed to slice his way back up through the order. From 21st at a restart after a Safety Car period (which was called to clean the road of debris), Percat picked his way through the traffic and had settled in 16th by lap 30.
He ultimately came home in 15th place at the end of 39 laps to finish off his first race day as a full-time V8 Supercars Championship driver.
Percat leaves Adelaide in 25th position in the V8 Supercars Championship point-score with 24 points for the weekend (with the 25 point penalty taken into account), though buoyed by the speed he was able to show in the final race.
“It was a tough weekend for my first weekend full-time in the main series,” says Percat.
“Friday didn’t go to plan and Saturday’s short races were not ideal either.
“I wasn’t a fan of the two shorter races on the Saturday and not just because of the results. It didn’t feel like we were really racing for championship points.
“I enjoyed the longer, traditional, Clipsal format race on the Sunday but I think the Safety Car restart format needs to be looked at.
“From the first one on Saturday everyone knew there was going to be a massive issue and today we had it. It’s even tighter at turn one at places like Symmons Plains and there’ll be more issues there.”
He will next line up in the #222 Commodore prepared by Walkinshaw Racing at the non-championship Australian Grand Prix event at Albert Park in Melbourne in a fortnight’s time.
The next points-paying V8 Supercars Championship event will be at Symmons Plains in Tasmania on March 28-30.
“Heading to the Grand Prix and Tasmania we have learnt a lot from the weekend,” says Percat. “It makes us better and hopefully we hit the ground running and can continue to build from there.”