Marcos Ambrose said Thursday that he regrets the punch he threw at Casey Mears, but won't apologize for the incident. (Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Marcos Ambrose regrets Mears punch but won’t apologize

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In his first public comments since last Saturday’s punch of Casey Mears and subsequent fines and penalties issued by NASCAR, Marcos Ambrose said he regrets the incident but will not apologize for it either.

“As it goes down, if I had my chance to think back about it, a wiser man would have walked away a little bit earlier and not got himself in that situation,” Ambrose said during a media event Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “I don’t apologize for my actions. I was just standing up for myself and my team and my family and letting people know that you can’t get in my private space like that and expect not to have any consequences.”

Both drivers were penalized Tuesday by NASCAR, with Ambrose receiving a higher fine ($25,000) due to his actual punching Mears, who was fined $15,000 for pushing and shoving Ambrose. Each was also placed on probation through May 28, three days after the Coca-Cola 600 race in Charlotte.

Although he drew the harsher penalty, Ambrose understood NASCAR’s side.

“I got myself in a bad situation,” Ambrose said. “I caused an action that NASCAR needed to reprimand, so I’m happy to pay it and happy to move on.

“It’s a heavy fine. That’s the biggest fine I’ve ever received in racing and I think that NASCAR needed to do something and whatever they chose to do, I’ll pay it.”

Ambrose said he’s still somewhat baffled why Mears instigated the confrontation.

“The altercation I had with Casey was quite impromptu,” Ambrose said. “As I was walking past the 13 car, as he’d finished the race, I was actually heading over to have a chat with David Gilliland just to say we’re all good after we got into each other a couple of times.

“Some words were said and I was confused about why Casey was so annoyed at me, and I think you just see a lot of the passion that the drivers have and the commitment we have to try to win these races and try to run at the front. That passion kind of got out of hand and got out of control pretty quick.”

If he had to do it all over again, Ambrose might take a different tact. But in the heat of the moment, he reacted in the way he did because he feared what Mears might do next.

“I think I’ve learned my lesson on that one,” Ambrose said. “I think next time I might scamper into the race hauler or scamper back to the plane and have a sleep on things. There’s just so much emotion. This is the first time I’ve been involved in something like this.

“At the time, even after the incident went down, I didn’t think much of it.  I just thought, ‘Well, he started pushing me around and I just had to get him away from me,’ because I didn’t know what was going to happen next. If he starts pushing me in the toolbox what happens next? Is he going to try to throw one on me?”

Ambrose even joked a bit of the response he received when he got back home afterward.

“So I was trying to get out of there and it wasn’t until a few hours later that the adrenaline starts to whoa down and you start to realize what you had done,” he said. “And then the next day when you have to talk to your kids about it and your wife is mad at you, you realize that walking away would have been a much smarter option.”

Ambrose insists he did try to walk away, but when Mears began to shove him, it didn’t leave Ambrose much choice in how to react.

“There was plenty of stuff said, but before the pushing,” Ambrose said. “He was upset and he was letting me know how upset he was. And then when I went to walk away he just couldn’t handle it any longer. As soon as he grabbed hold of me there, I knew I was going to have to get a shot in and I was just waiting for the right moment.”

Ambrose said he’s never had a physical confrontation before in his career, not even in his pre-NASCAR days in his native Australia. But he’s also willing to let bygones be bygones with Mears.

“I’m happy to move on and put the week behind us,” Ambrose said, adding that he and Mears have talked more than once since Richmond. “It’s certainly not a proud moment of mine, but I certainly don’t take anything back that I did. Casey and I spoke about it and he said, if the shoe was on the other foot he probably would have done the same thing.”

Ambrose even extended a gesture of friendship to Mears.

“I honestly believe that we’ll enjoy having a beer with each other,” he said. “I think we have a mutual respect for each other. I like Casey a lot. I didn’t have any beef with him after the race, but emotions just got out of hand and we both recognized that if we had our time again it wouldn’t happen again, but now it has, you can’t take back what has happened.

“I’ve spoken to him and I’m not carrying anything forward. He has to decide what he wants to do moving forward, but if we get ourselves in a pub somewhere I’d buy him a beer, no problem.”

Also offering his first comments on the incident, team owner Richard Petty defended his driver for essentially protecting himself.

Petty also questioned why NASCAR penalized his driver more severely than Mears, who instigated the incident by pushing and shoving Ambrose before the latter reacted in self-defense mode.

“I always look at it as you have to defend yourself no matter what the circumstances are, and that’s what I saw in the Marcos situation,” Petty said. “What provoked it? I have no idea.

“I don’t even think Marcos knows really what provoked the whole thing. But in the scheme of things, if you can’t protect yourself, then NASCAR is not going to come and protect you, so he had to do what he had to do.

“… As you can see in the tape, (Ambrose) did not initiate any of that. He was trying to get away. So I think from that standpoint, I don’t know what (NASCAR’s) rationale is. I’ll just have to talk to them and see what they come up with.”

Petty even laughed at times about the incident. When asked if he ever had any confrontations of note with other drivers during his racing career, Petty demurred.

“No comment,” he said with a laugh. “(Physical confrontations between drivers) used to go on a little bit all the time, but they didn’t have all of the TV cameras and all that stuff, so you could go around behind a truck and do what you needed to do and there wasn’t very many people who knew about it.”

When asked if he wishes Ambrose would have done things differently, Petty again replied with a laugh.

“You’ve got to defend yourself no matter what, but if he knew he was going to be fined $25,000, (Ambrose) might have let the guy (Mears) take another swing at him,” Petty said.

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Pocono is best superspeedway finish for Bourdais since IndyCar return

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Since returning to the Verizon IndyCar Series part-time in 2011 and full-time in 2013, French driver Sebastien Bourdais has four wins in 87 starts and eight podium finishes.

But in all of those starts, Bourdais had never scored a top-five on a superspeedway.

His best finish at the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway was seventh in 2014. His best finish on Fontana’s 2-miler was 12th in 2013.

And prior to Monday, his best finish at Pocono Raceway’s 2.5-mile “tricky triangle” was 16th (2013 and 2014).

But in Monday’s weather-delayed ABC Supply 500, Bourdais achieved a career-best performance on a superspeedway, as his No. 11 Team Hydroxycut KVSH Racing Chevrolet finished fifth.

Bourdais qualified 18th but was fourth-quickest in race trim in the final practice before Monday’s rescheduled race. While he started slow, he methodically worked his way up through the field until he cracked the top-10 on Lap 91 of the 200-lap, 500-mile event.

On Lap 177, Bourdais and his team gambled on their final pit stop. Instead of a full service stop, the team went with only fuel and not tires.

That moved Bourdais up to second place from seventh and his second win of 2016 (first was Belle Isle 1) appeared a strong possibility.

While the gamble worked in theory, it was foiled by a glitch in the computer blend line software, which erroneously placed Bourdais in third on the ensuing restart.

When the green flag fell, Bourdais had a slow restart and fell back two more spots to fifth. He briefly climbed back to forth, but eventual third-place finisher Ryan Hunter-Reay passed him, relegating Bourdais to where he’d ultimately finish: in fifth.

“It was a pretty good day for the Hydroxycut – KVSH Racing Team,” Bourdais said after the race. “We took some penalties with long pit stops to set the car up early on, but even though we were marginal on front grip we were running a pretty solid race.

“We passed Dixie (Scott Dixon), passed Kanaan (Tony), passed some Penskes, not the top one, but when you do that, things are going pretty good. Then you end up finishing fifth after there was some computer confusion about our position on the restart.”

Bourdais remains 14th in the IndyCar point standings, but Monday’s finish was his eighth top-10 showing in the first 13 races of the season.

“Overall, you have to consider that it was a great day,” Bourdais said of Pocono. “It was definitely our strongest showing on a super speedway.

“We learned something this weekend, something we have been missing. The crew did a really good job and the Hydroxycut Chevy machine was really strong. So I am really happy with the result.”

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The next Race of Champions confirmed for Jan. 21-22 in Miami

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The Race of Champions will make its first visit to the U.S. for the event’s next running; the all-star event won’t run in its usual December slot, but instead shifts to January in Miami next Jan. 21-22, 2017.

The event will now run one week before the traditional kickoff to the next year’s North American road racing calendar, the Rolex 24 at Daytona, which runs Jan. 28-29. The Roar Before the Rolex 24 runs Jan. 6-8.

All-star drivers from around the world in various disciplines of motorsport compete in the RoC. The release confirming the details is linked below:

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The Race Of Champions (ROC) is heading to the United States of America for the first time in its history after Miami’s Marlins Park baseball stadium won the rights to host the next ROC event on January 21-22, 2017.

Built in 2012, Marlins Park is the home of the Miami Marlins, the city’s Major League Baseball franchise. The stadium features a retractable roof and can seat over 37,000 fans, who are more used to watching fastballs than fast cars. It is set to host the 2017 Major League Baseball All-Star Game next July. Now it has seen off contenders from all over the world to stage the prestigious Race Of Champions, which will take place within the confines of the stadium itself.

In recent years ROC has visited the Stade de France in Paris (2004-2006), London’s Wembley Stadium (2007-2008), the ‘Bird’s Nest’ Olympic Stadium in Beijing (2009), Düsseldorf’s Esprit Arena (2010-2011), the Rajamangala Stadium in Bangkok (2012), Bushy Park Barbados (2014) and London’s former Olympic Stadium (2015).

Now the event is heading to the United States for the first time to soak up the heat of Miami. Florida’s sports fans will have a chance to watch the speediest action Marlins Park has ever seen as many of the world’s greatest drivers push to the absolute limit on a specially-designed racing track winding its way around the outfield.

The Race Of Champions is an annual contest which has been held for over 25 years. It brings together some of the world’s greatest drivers from motor sport’s major disciplines – including Formula 1, NASCAR, IndyCar, Le Mans, MotoGP, World Rally and the X Games – and sets them free to battle head-to-head in identical machinery.

Germany’s four-time Formula 1 world champion Sebastian Vettel took his first ROC Champion of Champions title in London last year after many years of trying. Now he will return to defend his crown in Miami – but first he will have to see off motor sport’s finest competitors from all over the world.

Vettel said: “I’m very happy to have finally won the individual Race Of Champions title last year in London’s Olympic Stadium and I look forward to defending my title at ROC in Miami. All the drivers are strong, and the top US drivers from NASCAR and IndyCar will certainly be extra motivated to win in front of their home fans now that the event is being held in their country for the first time.

“This will also be the first time ROC has been held in a baseball stadium so I’m curi-ous to discover the new track layout. But as always it’s the same track and identical cars for everyone so only driver skill makes the difference. The racing at ROC is al-ways very intense and the head-to-head duels often decided by fractions of a se-cond, so it’s just one strategy; flat out from start to finish!

“The Race Of Champions reminds us a lot about why we all first started racing; it’s about pure competition. The competition is very intense on the track and everyone wants to win, but it’s also about putting on a great show for the fans. I think all the drivers who have had the honour to participate in ROC fell in love with the event. It’s a privilege to be invited and to be able to come back.”

The first American drivers to sign up for ROC Miami have been unveiled as NASCAR champion Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Monster Energy, Haas Automation Chevy and 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner and 2012 IndyCar champion Ryan Hunter-Reay.

They both have fine pedigrees of their own at the Race Of Champions. At Barbados in 2014 both Busch and Hunter-Reay topped their groups in style with three wins out of three en route to the quarter-finals. Now both drivers can look forward to soaking up the adulation of their home fans as they slug it out to take Vettel’s crown in Miami.

Busch said: “I’m honoured to once again be invited to the Race Of Champions. I had a great time last time out in Barbados and given that this year’s event will be in the US, it will make it that much more exciting. In addition, representing the US in my country will be special.

“The ROC is a particular challenge that tests versatility and adaptability with little margin for error. If the format was not challenging enough, you throw in World Champions from all kinds of disciplines, with various types of cars, which makes for a good recipe. And no matter how much we all like to say it’s ‘just for fun…’ we all want to win this prestigious event.”

Hunter-Reay added: “I’m delighted to be making my fourth straight appearance at the Race Of Champions – and especially this time with the event taking place on American soil, better yet my own backyard!”

“It is a spectacular event and a unique challenge to jump in and out of all the different cars as you go head-to-head with some of the best drivers in the world, it is a tremendous honor to be selected as a competitor for ROC. I’m proud to represent America, IndyCar and the Indy 500 and I look forward to hearing the noise of the crowds in Miami and feeling that hometown support.”

The Race Of Champions is run over two days: first comes the Race Of Champions itself (on Saturday January 21) with a flat-out battle for individual glory. Then on Sunday January 22 it’s the ROC Nations Cup when drivers pair up in teams based on nationality to bid for the title of ‘World’s Fastest Nation’. All the racing takes place in a stunning range of superfast cars.

But that’s not all. The Race Of Champions is a non-stop action event from start to finish and also features stunt shows on four wheels and two plus DJs, cheerleaders and plenty of other entertainment to keep the race fans on the edge of their seats. Tickets for both days of action have gone on sale today from http://www.raceofchampions.com.

ROC President Fredrik Johnsson said: “We are thrilled to be bringing the Race Of Champions to the United States at last. Miami’s Marlins Park is a wonderful venue and it’s our first time inside a baseball stadium. Rest assured we will put together a truly memorable event for fans of fast cars and even faster drivers.

“American race fans are passionate about their sport and I’m sure they will enjoy the great competition and shows we put on. We look forward to welcoming a packed crowd to enjoy the sight of some of the world’s best drivers battling it out. If you like non-stop action, noise and excitement, the Race Of Champions is the perfect event for you.”

Tickets for ROC Miami are now available via http://www.raceofchampions.com. For access to rights-free high-resolution imagery and to keep up with all the latest news ahead of this year’s event please visit http://www.raceofchampions.com, Race Of Champions on Facebook plus @raceofchampions and #ROCMiami on Twitter.

Pocono Raceway president thanks fans for dedication through the rain

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A class move here from Pocono Raceway president Brandon Igdalsky, who released a letter to all fans and ticket buyers for their dedication to coming to the track despite three rainouts in as many major events.

Both NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races were delayed until Monday and the second one produced a fog-shortened finish, with Chris Buescher scoring a surprise first career victory for Front Row Motorsports.

Then the Verizon IndyCar Series came this weekend and completed the rare “dripple” as it was coined by USA Today Sports’ Brant James, as heavy rains swept through right about an hour before the scheduled green flag time on Sunday. IndyCar got all 500 miles in on Monday.

Igdalsky, who along with his staff kept his spirits high all weekend and even poked fun at himself by changing his name on Twitter to “The Rain King,” released this letter to fans on Monday:

Pocono Raceway Fans,

Thank you, thank you, thank you. As you know, we like things in threes here at ‘The Tricky Triangle’ but three postponements isn’t what we had in mind.

We know this has been a challenging race season and I just wanted to thank you all for your support. Mother Nature wasn’t kind to us this year and despite our best efforts, we weren’t able to run any races on Sunday. We are very grateful for all who came back to see tremendous action on Mondays.

We made some changes this year to Pocono Raceway. Some were obvious, the Pocono Raceway Bark Park, additional SAFER Barrier, more catchfence, improvements in parking and traffic and some not that were made behind the scenes. We hope these made your race experience better.

Thank you also to those who have reached out and offered suggestions. We altered some of our communication plans so fans in the stands were better informed and added additional signage in our RV and Camping areas.

We are always looking to improve and do more for our fans. Our planning for 2017 begins today.

We already know our NASCAR weekends for next year (June 9-11 and July 28-30) and will learn our Verizon IndyCar Series date soon. Keep an eye our website and social media channels for more details.

Thank you again for all of your support. We hope to see you again very soon.

IndyCar is back for two more years at Pocono through 2018 with dates yet to be announced; NASCAR maintains its two-event per year run at “The Tricky Triangle,” as well.

Buemi tops opening day of collective Formula E testing

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Defending FIA Formula E champion Sebastien Buemi sent out an early warning shot to his title rivals by comfortably topping the opening day of collective testing at Donington Park.

Teams were afforded six hours of running on Tuesday following the conclusion of private testing, allowing them to gauge the pace of their rivals and run through any processes and procedures ahead of the new season.

Jerome d’Ambrosio led the morning session for Dragon, but times tumbled in the afternoon as 10 drivers went quicker than the fastest time from this point in testing last year.

Sam Bird led for DS Virgin Racing with 30 minutes to go, only for season two title rivals Buemi and Lucas di Grassi to head out for a final run.

Di Grassi edged out Bird to take P1 away, but spent mere moments at the helm of the timesheets as Buemi went eight-tenths of a second faster to take top spot.

“Today was a very good day. It’s only the first day of testing so we can’t draw a lot of conclusions, but it’s clear it’s better to be ahead than behind!” Buemi said.

“We checked the developments we have made to the car over last year and our time – practically a new lap record – shows we are quicker than last year. It’s a good start so we will see how it continues tomorrow.”

The day was filled with brief stoppages, but most of the teams were able to conduct some significant running. After a nightmare in 2015, Andretti had few problems as Antonio Felix da Costa enjoyed his first public run for the team.

Tuesday also marked the first public run for the new Jaguar Formula E team, which is making its first foray into top-line international motorsport since the conclusion of its ill-fated Formula 1 project that ended in 2004.

Jaguar is yet to make a final call on its line-up for the coming season, with running being shared by Alex Lynn and Adam Carroll on Tuesday. Mitch Evans and Harry Tincknell are set for outings later this week alongside Carroll.

Nick Heidfeld enjoyed a late charge for Mahindra to finish second ahead of di Grassi and Bird, with d’Ambrosio’s late lap lifting him to P5. Lynn was the leading Jaguar driver in sixth, 1.2 seconds off Buemi, while recent Indy Lights driver Felix Rosenqvist was P7 in his first public Formula E test.

Daniel Abt finished eighth ahead of Carroll and Jose Maria Lopez, the latter making his public debut for DS Virgin Racing. Maro Engel also made his first appearance for Venturi, finishing at the foot of the timesheets.

Testing continues at Donington Park on Wednesday with another six hours of running.