WINSTON SALEM, N.C. — Blog by Race Chaser Online V8 Supercars Correspondent James Pike — Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images North America photo — The news has been out for a couple weeks now that Marcos Ambrose will be returning to Australia in 2015 to drive a V8 Supercar for the new alliance that will be Dick Johnson Racing/Team Penske.
Ambrose’s return to Australia is incredibly significant on a personal level, but what does it mean to those that are currently in the series?
Jamie Whincup is likely the first man fans of the series will think of when it comes to Ambrose’ potential competition. Whincup is the man in the spot most similar to Ambrose’ place in the series when he departed for America- a dominant force in the series, with multiple championships and race wins abound.
However, it is also safe to say that Whincup is the only man in the series that is in a better position than Ambrose ever was — he has over double the championships Ambrose has, and nearly three times as many wins. Whincup is curious to see how things will play out with the Tasmanian back in the V8SC fold.
“I was a bit of a rookie back when Marcos drove,” Whincup said. “I remember following him in 2003, which was a huge achievement, for about three laps before he disappeared.”
“I have got a lot of respect for the guy so it will be exciting for me.”
Clearly, there is a level of reverence that Whincup has for Ambrose’ accomplishments in the series. It might be the “Whincup-Ambrose Complex” that is the most interesting of them all, too. There is no question that Ambrose’ ultimate goal upon return will be to dominate the series like he once did — and like Whincup is currently doing.
How, then, will he treat the man setting the benchmark, the man with the target on his back, on the track?
Though Whincup is the eventual target, multiple major names in V8 Supercars believe that it will take some time for Ambrose to get reacclimated to the series. Ross Stone, who was Ambrose’s team owner at Stone Brothers Racing for all of his first stint, is one of them.
“I always thought he would come back and buy a farm in Tasmania and we would never see him again,” Stone said. “I think it is really good for V8 Supercars and without a doubt he will go alright, but the series has moved on. So it is going to be really interesting. I have no doubt he will do a really good job.”
Though they have yet to race in the V8 Supercars Championship, Stone is also bullish on the prospects of the Dick Johnson Racing/Penske alliance.
“I am sure Penske will do a good job too. They have the runs on the board and their resources are probably second to none in the world,” said Stone.
Though Stone might already be a believer in the prowess of Penske, it is worth noting that this is their first foray ever into the series, and that while they might learn quickly, it will likely take some time for the empire of “The Captain” to learn how to succeed.
Garth Tander, who currently drives for the Holden Racing Team and raced against Ambrose during his original stint in V8 Supercars, is another notable name in the series that has his reservations on Ambrose’ expectations.
“I think the game has moved on a fair bit in the time that he has been away,” Tander said. “He goes alright on the road courses over there but he has been predominantly turning left, so have to teach him how to turn right again.”
It wouldn’t be Garth Tander if there weren’t some sly bit of humor involved, but he does make a fair point. Though the jump shouldn’t be difficult, it will take some time for Ambrose to adjust to driving on road courses for the entirety of the series. It is also worth nothing that there are a few events on the schedule for 2015 that either weren’t run in 2005 or have changed significantly in the decade since.
Though Pukekohe Park Raceway was on the 2005 calendar, it has been completely renovated in the time that Ambrose has been in the United States, and the races in Townsville and the Sydney Olympic Park were only introduced to the calendar in 2009. However, Ambrose might have already acknowledged the most difficult part of his return himself:
“As much as anything I need to get use to driving on the right hand side again!”
Ambrose has already confirmed that he will be in Australia between the Sprint Cup finale at Homestead and the Sydney 500 at the Olympic Park. He has indicated that he would be very interested in picking up seat time during that period. Insignificant as a test date might sound, whether or not Ambrose actually does get behind the wheel of a DJR machine while he is back home might play a large role in just how successful his 2015 ends up being.
Given that the restrictions on testing are quickly tightening — teams are only permitted to 3 private testing days in 2014, and that number will shrink to one next year — it would seem to be imperative that Ambrose gets extra time behind the wheel while he still can.
Regardless, V8 Supercars CEO James Warburton might have explained the impact of Ambrose’s return more succinctly than anyone else:
“Game on for 2015!”
Indeed, James. Game on.