Nick Percat is doing everything in his power to ensure his twin wins with Brad Jones Racing at Sydney Motorsport are just the start of his success in 2020.
He is relaxed and confident heading into the double-header at Hidden Valley in the Top End, without being arrogant or conceited.
“We’re seeing the fruits of our labour. Myself and the team,” Percat tells Race News.
“I’ve been doing things to try and maximise everything and get the one-percenters for myself and the team.”
This Nick sounds more like a Nico, more like a Rosberg than the young Percat, as he talks about the changes he has made to lift his game in Supercars.
He has had off-season driver coaching in Britain and continues with a driving advisor from Perth, has regular appointments with his trainer and a sports psychologist, and has a tighter bond with his engineer Andrew Edwards.
It sounds a lot like the work that Nico Rosberg put into his Formula One championship year, when he used many of the same techniques to defeat his Mercedes-Benz team mate Lewis Hamilton.
But there are two big differences.
Percat’s BJR Commodore has been significantly upgraded for 2020, with new front-end parts that are delivering the feel and grip and response that the 31-year-old has been craving at the Albury team.
And there is Nelson. He is Percat’s four-legged best friend and his constant travelling companion as the Supercars circus spends days and weeks on the road to combat the coronavirus lock-down in Victoria.
“I’ve changed a few bits and pieces away from the track,” Percat says, significantly under-stating the difference.
“Nelson is with me all the time. I drove up to Darwin with him.”
The Nelson name has plenty of history, from Admiral Horatio Nelson of the British navy through to bad-boy Nelson Muntz in The Simpsons, but Percat is not sure where his buddy’s name comes from.
“I don’t know how he got that name. I just looked at him and he looked like a Nelson.”
He is much clearer on how things have improved for season 2020, starting with the front end of his Holden.
“The whole front-end geometry is different to what we’ve had before. It’s a whole new front end, designed and developed by BJR. We started trialling it last year.
“At the start of the year the car was quite good. And the way I drive and the way BJR sets up the cars, it’s good on its tyres. It’s helped us.
“It’s only one track so far, Sydney, but it was good on the street in Adelaide and in the test at The Bend.”
On the personal front, Percat has been working to match his ambition to his talent.
“I’ve only ever been wired one way, and that’s to win. In the training I’m doing away from he track, I’m doing more things that push me out of my mental comfort zone including open-water swimming. Not just silly bike rides.
“I get good results when I have a good structure around me. They back me and I’ve got the right things around me.
“At this level, honestly, once you get the car then you want it and the team has the same philosophy. It’s just taken a few little bits and pieces on the car.”
So there is the Nico link again.
Percat has had his challenges at BJR but, with Brad Jones pushing and coaching, he’s looking for a step up.
“Even when we’re down in the trenches a bit, it’s still enjoyable. But thankfully I’m normally inside the top 10 and when you’re inside the top five it’s even nicer again. The intensity is extremely high but it’s more enjoyable again.”
With more glue to stick the package together, Percat also says he has a car that works for – and with – him.
“We always used to be chasing front grip, and now we will probably struggle for rear grip. We never used to have that ability until the last meeting of last year.”
Percat is happy to discuss his driving style, and the challenges through the Supercars sprints.
“I’m always looking to change my style during a race to get the most out of it. The way I brake and turn can change quite drastically if I need to. I’m quite adaptive.
“The ideal thing is you want to be able to brake the car quite late, have good rotation and then good drive. If I have some good turn as I come off the brake then I’m going to have a good weekend.”
Looking at Hidden Valley, Percat sees the obvious keys.
“For Darwin you want to have a lot of braking confidence. And you need good turn off the brakes at Turn 1, so you don’t have to be too aggressive with the throttle.
“I’d say in some ways it’s similar to SMP. We do carry a bit more mid-corner speed than you would expect.”
Percat believes he can rattle the Supercars headliners again in the Top End, and laughs as he talks about the reaction of some drivers to the tougher Dunlop tyre allocations this year.
“Can I ambush them again? I’m going to bloody try,” he says.
“The guys who have had it all their way are now complaining. They have been critical of the new tyre rules, but I think it’s just a new challenge. And a good opportunity.
“I think BJR, as a team, did a mega job at SMP2 with all the cars. Now we just have to do it again in Darwin.”