DJR Team Penske’s decision to run just a single car this season is proving a significant hurdle for Marcos Ambrose as he reacclimatises to the V8 Supercars Championship.
Ambrose struggled for speed during much of last weekend’s Clipsal 500 Adelaide, finishing all eight track sessions across Friday and Saturday in the bottom half of the field.
According to technical director Nick Hughes, the team made slow progress dialling out persistent understeer until a major rethink on Saturday night.
Ambrose then surprised by making the Top 10 Shootout on Sunday morning before running competitively on the way to a 12th place finish in the 250km feature race.
“It’s taking a little bit of time for Marcos to get conviction in what he feels in the car,” Hughes told Speedcafe.com.
“We were fighting a lot of the same problem the whole weekend and early on he wasn’t confident with how much we had to go.
“We were taking small steps and as the weekend went on we starting taking bigger and bigger steps. He just became more confident in what he needs. That’s when we were starting to make progress.
“I think if it’s someone who had been in the sport for a while, right from run one they would have said ‘ok, we need to make a big change here’.
“What we learned on the weekend is that his ability to explain exactly what he needs to go faster will take time to develop.”
Having a team-mate for Ambrose to compare with, admits Hughes, would have sped up the quest to find a competitive set-up over the weekend.
The problem is lessened, but not completely solved, by DJRTP’s technical alliance with Prodrive Racing Australia, which sees Hughes involved in Prodrive’s engineering briefings at race meetings.
DJRTP also has access to data from the Prodrive cars which, ironically, proved among the pace-setters on Saturday before qualifying behind Ambrose on Sunday.
The Queensland-based team is expected to return to two cars next year after scaling back amid the Penske takeover.
“The advantage of having two cars is that ability to sanity check yourself, especially when you’ve got sort of a rookie driver in the car like Marcos,” explained Hughes.
“If we had someone with more experience in the car it would probably make it a bit easier.
“The Tekno guys are a good example. Shane (van Gisbergen) is very experienced and probably relies a little less on a team-mate.
“The Prodrive link definitely helps, but it’ll never be the same as working side-by-side with a team-mate,” he continued.
“We spent some time with those guys (Prodrive on Saturday night) and saw the direction they were going in, which gave us confidence we were heading in the right direction as well.
“We get to hear what they’re saying and when they’re saying the same thing as Marcos is it give you confidence.
“It’s not the same as having a team-mate, but it’s certainly better than not having anything.”
DJRTP was under immense pressure in Adelaide, with the presence of Roger Penske in the team’s garage adding to the already high level of public scrutiny surrounding Ambrose’s return.
“There’s been a huge amount of pressure for the last two months getting spares together for the FG X, as well as getting the presentation of the garage up to speed,” said Hughes.
“Trying to perform on top of that is a big ask when you’ve got Mr Penske sitting there looking over your shoulder.
“But I think at the end of the weekend we were all pretty satisfied with where we ended up.”
Ambrose, whose Sunday race result was hurt by a strategy error that saw the #17 Ford take on more than the mandated 140 litre of fuel during the race, sits 12th in the standings after Adelaide.