V8 Supercars stars ready for Ambrose return
V8 Supercars’ current breed of drivers are looking forward to testing their skills against a returning Marcos Ambrose in 2015, but opinions are divided on just how quickly the NASCAR star will readjust.
Ambrose confirmed at the weekend that he will walk away from Richard Petty Motorsports and the NASCAR Sprint Cup at the end of the current season, relocating back to Australia with his family.
Team Penske will hold a teleconference on Tuesday morning discussing its plans to partner with DJR, although details of the deal could be made official as early as today.
Ambrose has not driven a V8 Supercar since the conclusion of the 2005 season, when he headed for America after winning two championships from five attempts with Stone Brothers Racing.
The Tasmanian’s success and subsequent departure earned the now 38-year-old somewhat cult status, particularly with Ford supporters who witnessed Ambrose and SBR end the Holden Racing Team’s 1998-2002 era of domination.
Only eight of the current V8 Supercars drivers raced in the series full-time against Ambrose, while several of the sport’s newest heroes were still in karts when he went to the USA.
“He’ll be an awesome feature for our sport,” 21-year-old Scott McLaughlin, who recently met Ambrose for the first time at a NASCAR Sprint Cup event, told Speedcafe.com.
“He was very down to earth and genuine when I went over there and I can’t wait to race him.
“There are a lot of guys, even (Jamie) Whincup, who were only just starting before Marcos left, so it’ll be interesting to see what will happen.
“He (Ambrose) is an awesome driver who can race anything fast, so it’s exciting for everyone in the sport.”
Whincup has established himself as the benchmark driver since Ambrose left, winning five of the last six championships.
Ambrose’s exit coincided with Whincup’s move to Triple Eight after the latter had driven lower profile Garry Rogers Motorsport and Tasman Motorsport equipment in earlier seasons.
The current championship leader was quick to downplay suggestions that next year’s series will be billed as the ‘Whincup versus Ambrose’ grudge match, but says he’s looking forward to the challenge.
“I remember following him in 2003 for about three laps, which was a huge achievement, before he disappeared,” smiled Whincup, who won Sunday’s Wilson Security Sandown 500 alongside co-driver Paul Dumbrell.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for the guy so it would be exciting for me (to race him again).”
A typically provocative Garth Tander suggests that Ambrose will have plenty of learning to do when he returns.
“It’s obviously great to have a driver the calibre of Marcos come back to the series… but I think the game has moved on a fair bit in the time that he’s been away,” he said.
“He goes alright on the road courses over there (in the USA) but he’s been predominately turning left, so we’ll have to teach him how to turn right again.”
Although just two circuits, Townsville’s Reid Park and Sydney’s Olympic Park street courses, will be new to Ambrose next year, the cars themselves have undoubtedly changed over the last nine seasons.
Craig Lowndes, who raced against Ambrose for all five of the latter’s V8 Supercars campaigns, suggests that the two-time Sprint Cup race winner will enjoy the new-generation Australian equipment.
“The cars have changed and the competition has changed but he’s a racer and he’ll get back into the swing of things,” mused Lowndes.
“I don’t think it’ll take him long at all to get used to these cars and they’re probably nicer than what he had when he left.
“He might be pleasantly surprised by what he finds.”
Adding greatly to the anticipation of Ambrose’s return is the clout of Team Penske, which has taken titles in both the IndyCar and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series during the past three years.
Owner Roger Penske’s long history of success in both the racing and business worlds suggests it’ll only be a matter of time before the team is a serious force in the Australian series.
Adrian Burgess, who presided over championship success with DJR and then Triple Eight before taking the reigns of the resurgent HRT this season, warns that Penske should not underestimate its competition.
“We’re not sitting here quaking in our boots, we’re certainly not worried about it,” he said of the Ambrose/Penske arrival.
“If anyone thinks they’re going to walk in and find it easy they’re underestimating the job and professionalism of every team in the series.
“They won’t be stupid enough to think that everyone here is a bunch of dills.
“This category is the most competitive touring car series in the world for a reason.
“There are some bloody good engineers, mechanics and drivers in this series that’ll make it a real challenge for them.”