This is the debut of our V8 Supercar correspondent (and resident Australian) James Pike’s recurring blog hitting on some of his wild and wacky thoughts revolving around the “Land Down Under” while they’re still fresh on the barbie (that’s Aussie for barbeque, in case you were wondering). Enjoy, and comment your thoughts — but keep it family-friendly!
LAUNCESTON, Tasmania, Australia — Blog by Race Chaser Online V8 Supercars Correspondent James Pike — Sean Gardner/Getty Images North America photo — Marcos Ambrose is coming home.
His 8-year adventure in America will conclude at the end of the 2014 season, as Marcos announced on Sunday he will return home to race in V8 Supercars for 2015 and beyond. More importantly, he is the tip of the arrow for the partnership between Dick Johnson Racing and Team Penske, which will be entering the fray down under after months of speculation.
In the immediate aftermath, I sat and thought about the move. What does this mean for Ambrose, really?
Ambrose gives fans a clue as to what this is all about. In his own words:
“The time was just right for me to stop. I wanted to get my kids home to enjoy the Australian lifestyle as well so they can make that choice when they grow up. At the end of the day, this was a racing choice for me and I feel like the time is right for me to stop here in the U.S. and personally I think it’s time for me to move back home with my family.”
So the man is homesick. But when you’re halfway across the world, can you really blame him? Most striking to me, though, is the way he sees Australia.
This is clearly not just about physically being home — it’s about rejoining the culture and lifestyle. In fairness, the American lifestyle isn’t terribly far removed from the Australian lifestyle. But (in, admittedly, a very shoe-horned reference to the great Motown artist Marvin Gaye), “ain’t nothing like the real thing” either.
Also, that he sees the Australian lifestyle as a “choice” for his children is something to note as well. My guess is that it’s something in between some sort of obligation to his kids that he feels and an active choice that he wants to make.
“I met my wife there and it is my natural home. We are really excited about moving back there. We have not lived there since ‘97 but are looking forward to getting our feet back on the ground in Tasmania.”
Just to drive it all home — I was four when Ambrose moved away from Tasmania. That would be 17 years away from home, for the math scholars in the building. Not that there are any direct comparisons, but Odysseus spent 20 years away from Ithaca before he returned… Ambrose isn’t Odysseus, but I would be lying if I didn’t get the same kind of feeling thinking about all of this.
Also, what a sight Symmons Plains will be next year! Don’t be surprised if the return of their native son sees the tiny Tasmanian venue generate the best ticket sales in years. There are many fans on the island that have clamored for Ambrose’s return — much like the fans of the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets and the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets, their wish has been granted. I can only imagine that the reaction down in “Tassie” is just as ecstatic.
In regards to keeping up with V8 Supercars, Ambrose said this:
“This year I have needed to get DVD’s across, but I have always kept up to date with the people I know in pit lane. I have recently updated myself with the new rules and cars. Basically as much as I can do from 14,000 miles away.”
Translation: He may have left the series, but the series has never really has left him. When SPEED was still a thing, they would air the V8 Supercars and Ambrose would provide extra analysis and commentary for the American audience. Add to that all of the connections he had maintained during his stint in America, and there is a mountain of evidence suggesting that he has always been a V8 Supercars man, even during his time in NASCAR.
Of course, the “homecoming” is but one part of this. There is also the on-track performance of Ambrose to consider as well. To that end, there is a blunt answer: his NASCAR results are not what he would have liked them to be. If he were regularly competing in the Chase for the Sprint Cup and racing for a shot at the title on a consistent basis, his decision to leave for Tasmania would be far more difficult.
But for a man who came halfway across the world to a completely different category and a completely different style of racing, it’s hard to say that he didn’t do a fine job.
Ambrose is a man who had absolutely zero oval experience coming into the NEXTEL Cup. None. And the majority of the drivers he has raced against while he has been here have been born and bred on ovals. He made note of it in his presser:
“I feel like I was up against it early on with just my (Supercars) background. I hadn’t done any oval racing. I came from a country that doesn’t have any actual asphalt oval racing at all. And so I feel like I achieved a lot during my time here.”
Even up against it to that degree, his average finishes in the Sprint Cup read like this: 29th, 20th, 23rd, 18th, 18th, 20th, and 20th (with nine races remaining). We would all be lying if we said that wasn’t something notable, in a good way.
And that’s before we get to the road courses. There is no doubt that Ambrose is gifted when it comes to road-course racing. Even once he’s back home, he will still be talented enough to run with the very best of NASCAR’s finest at Sonoma and Watkins Glen if he chooses to do so. I don’t expect him to return to those races in a “ringer” role anytime soon, but if he did, I think that he would be almost as competitive in the future as he has been while he’s raced in the Sprint Cup Series.
Marcos freely admits that despite some people being critical of his numbers, he personally is content with the road he has paved in NASCAR.
“I never thought I would have achieved what I have done at the Sprint Cup level and I’ve survived here for the past couple of years,” he said following the announcement. “It just is an amazing journey I’ve been on.”
At the end of the day, I’m not convinced that Ambrose will measure his American journey in the numbers. Here is a man who came to America to try his hand at the largest of all Motorsport series in the country, and here is a man who did just that — and wasn’t too shabby at it, regardless of what he might say.
Remember that he came into the series around the same time that the likes of Dario Franchitti, Jacques Villeneuve, and Juan Pablo Montoya did. All four of them hail from outside the U.S. Ambrose is the only one remaining in the series from that crop of drivers — and the most successful of them in NASCAR, too.
What Ambrose will take back to Tasmania with him — and what he will measure his time here by — are memories.
First and foremost, he wanted to experience American culture and was so curious that he uprooted his entire family to come this way. And he has done just that in the eight years he has been here. It was a bold move, a brave move, and something that not everyone would have the courage to make. If nothing else, we should be commending Ambrose for having the guts to do that.
Personally, my hope is that his move back will draw American eyes towards a series that is criminally underrated and under-appreciated in the States. V8 Supercars racing is a fantastic product and deserves that kind of attention — it isn’t even all that far removed from NASCAR! Everything about it points to Americans quickly picking up and enjoying what they see — I’ll take this as the catalyst.
Will this sequence of events be the spark that not only revitalizes V8 Supercars, but Marcos Ambrose as well? I’m not sure, but I do know this much. For the Tasmanian Devil, it means a new beginning — and one that I can’t wait to watch.
Welcome home mate.