Nick Percat has endured a roller-coaster weekend at the Tyrepower Tasmania 400 at Symmons Plains Raceway, highlighted by his best qualifying result of the season.
The #222 Walkinshaw Racing-run Commodore VF debuted its new-look HHA livery at the 2.4-kilometre circuit near Launceston in the second championship event of the 2014 season.
The first of the ‘Super Sprint’ events for the season saw a pair of 100-kilometre races on Saturday followed by a longer 200-kilometre race on the Sunday afternoon.
A pair of very short, 10-minute qualifying sessions determined the grids for the two sprints on Saturday, though problems in the first session left Percat starting from the rear of the grid.
The #222 driver was forced to start from 25th after running off at the hairpin mid-session and being beached in the gravel trap.
The session was red-flagged and stopped and, given he was the cause of the stoppage, Percat had hi fastest time to that point removed and was benched for the rest of the session.
Despite starting from the tail of the field, Percat worked his way forward in the opening stages of the first 42-lap race.
A mid-race Safety Car allowed him to close up even further on the drivers in front and he’d progressed to 17th by lap 25.
He would finish in that position come the chequered flag after an entertaining dice with the Mercedes of Lee Holdsworth in the closing stages.
Percat qualified 22nd for the second sprint race, though this became 21st on the grid when front-row qualifier Craig Lowndes was excluded from the session and all other drivers moved up one position.
A wild opening lap saw plenty of cars make contact and the Safety Car was sent out on just the second lap to clean up the mess, by which time Percat had risen five spots to 16th.
He was working on moving even further forward on lap seven when he made a passing attempt on Russell Ingall at turn six.
Contact with the former V8 Supercar champion broke a steering arm on the HHA Commodore and sent Percat immediately towards pit lane.
It was repaired and he returned to the circuit six laps down on the leaders, but returned to the pit lane soon afterwards to retire from the race.
Percat bounced back strongly though on Sunday morning with his best qualifying effort of the season so far - ninth - for the 84-lap, 200-kilometre race.
The race would prove to be something of a battle of strategies with each car required by the rules to take on 120 litres of fuel, something that would take two separate stops to complete.
After making up a position on the opening lap to sit in eighth place, the HHA Commodore driver soon found himself off the road on lap three at turn six after contact with the Erebus Mercedes of Lee Holdsworth.
Race officials investigated the incident post-race, though no action was taken over the contact.
The hit sent Percat out through the grass and spiraling back to 20th place, though effectively 25th and last given five drivers had elected to make their first pit stop at the end of the first lap of the race.
From there followed a fight back drive from the 2011 Bathurst winner, who took his first pit stop at the end of lap 23 and second on lap 54 to re-emerge in 18th position.
He was able to pick off a few more cars before the end of the race to finish 15th overall.
Percat, who was one of three drivers making his V8 Supercars Championship debut at Symmons Plains, summarised his weekend as one of contrasting fortunes.
“Qualifying on Sunday was quite good and to be in the top 10 is promising,” he says.
“The car was quite comfortable and I thought for where we are positioned at this point of a long season, it was a solid run.
“We were quite confident for the race, but it was basically all over when I got eased off the road by Holdsworth. He put a late, half-passing move on and drilled me in the rear wheel and sent me off into the boonies.
“That dropped us to last but some good strategy from Alex (Somerset, engineer) and Ty (Anderson, engineer) got us back up to salvage something from the day.
“Saturday was a bad day, a stinker really. We had a few little gremlins with me and the car. It was just an average day, especially after we’d had such good practice pace on Friday.
“I made a mistake in the first qualifying session and then qualified virtually in the same spot for the second race, which was less than ideal.
“We did a much better job on Sunday but didn’t have the result to show for it.”
There is no rest for Percat and the rest of the V8 Supercars Championship field given they will be back in action next weekend in the Winton 400 at Winton Motor Raceway in north-eastern Victoria.
It’s a venue where Percat has had a range of success before, including taking overall victory in the 2012 Dunlop Series round at Winton as well as claiming victory in the Australian Formula Ford Championship there in 2009.
Practice for the Winton 400 will begin on Friday April 4.