Marcos Ambrose: Not looking to leave U.S. or Richard Petty Motorsports

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Marcos Ambrose is denying persistent rumors he will leave Richard Petty Motorsports once his current contract expires after this season.

While meeting with reporters Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway, site of Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600, Ambrose was asked if he anticipates remaining in the U.S. and in NASCAR next season.

“Yeah, I do,” Ambrose said. “I do anticipate racing in the U.S. There are a lot of changes in the midst at RPM and I’m part of that. I have to renew my contract with them, but I’m gonna do whatever I can to get Richard Petty where he wants to go and his whole company.”

RPM has substantially reinvested into the organization in the last two-plus years, including starting its first-ever research and development program. It’s forward-thinking moves such as that which make Ambrose want to remain with the team going forward.

“I’ve been part of the Petty Motorsport family since they went through all the turmoil with the (George) Gillett crossover and they’ve gone through various stages,” Ambrose said. “Obviously, they had to really just get some stability and then now we’ve gotten past stability and we’re working toward the future and bringing new sponsors to NASCAR.

“We definitely have more funding, we have more infrastructure, we have better people around us, and I think you’re going to the next level for Richard Petty Motorsports. I have seen direct results of the extra money that’s gone into our company.

“I think we needed to keep up and we certainly have made up some ground since 2013, but we’ve got a ways to go. You’ve got to look at everything to get better and I know that everybody at Richard Petty Motorsports is doing that, they really are looking at it from the outside-in, seeing what they can do and where they need to go to be the best they can be.”

Richard Petty himself said during January’s NASCAR Media Tour that he wasn’t sure whether Ambrose wanted to stay in NASCAR, let alone with RPM after this season.

“I don’t know how much longer he wants to stay in the U.S.,” Petty said at the time. “You know, (Ambrose has) come a long way. He’s sort of a hero in Australia just because he’s running Cup. His big deal is if he could win on a round and around racetrack, that would be the optimum for him. If he did do that, he’d probably just go home and say, ‘Thank you guys,’ but I don’t know.”

Ambrose did not specifically address whether contract negotiations are ongoing with RPM, nor did he discuss reports that he may return to his native Australia to compete in that country’s very popular V8 Supercars category in 2015 (potentially for a new team rumored to be owned by NASCAR and IndyCar team owner Roger Penske).

As for a number of recent reports that RPM may leave Ford at the end of this season, and jump to Toyota or Chevrolet in 2015, Ambrose was non-committal.

“I haven’t given them input, but we have a great opportunity at Richard Petty Motorsports to improve the situation,” Ambrose said. “Whenever you get a period of time like this where you can shuffle the cards and shuffle the deck, it allows your team to get better.

“So I think they’re in a great position. They’ve got choices, which is the most important thing, and I’m sure they’ll make the right choices for Richard Petty Motorsports and I fully support them whatever they choose to do.”

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Schmidt Peterson aiming high with Hinchcliffe, Wickens

Photo: IndyCar
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The new Schmidt Peterson Motorsports duo of James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens expressed a high amount of confidence during Wednesday’s confirmation of Hinchcliffe’s return and Wickens’ signing, as the pair looks to return the Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson co-owned team to prominent status within the Verizon IndyCar Series.

“We’re hoping to give Toronto and Ontario and Canadian sports fans in general something to cheer about over the next season,” Hinchcliffe quipped during a teleconference on Wednesday.

Granted, there are likely to be several challenges to overcome, notably for Wickens, who returns to single-seater competition for the first time since 2011, when he was a champion of the Formula Renault 3.5 series and served as test driver for the now defunct Manor Racing (then known as Marussia Virgin Racing).

Having spent every year since then in DTM, where he won a total of six races and finished as high as fourth in the championship (2016), Wickens knows returning to open wheel competition will be an adjustment. However, he explained that the history of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, specifically its Indy Lights history, speaks to their ability to help a driver adapt, and he rates the program they’re putting together very highly.

“I think Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have a fantastic driver development program. They showed that in their multiple Indy Lights championships along the way. I think we will have a strong program in place. I have a feeling that the simulator will be my new best friend,” Wickens said when asked about getting reacquainted with an open-wheel car.

Of course, having an experienced teammate like Hinchcliffe to lean on will undoubtedly help the transition, something Wickens readily admitted.

“I’m very fortunate that I have James as my teammate because he’s so experienced, I can learn off him. Because we already have such a good off-track relationship, I feel like you can just take his word, trust him, kind of move forward with it,” he revealed.

They’ve been teammates before, both in karting where they first met in 2001, and then in the now-defunct A1 Grand Prix series in 2007-2008, a series that pitted nations against each other in spec open-wheel cars. Funnily, that A1GP type of vibe returns as Schmidt Peterson Motorsports now has that with its “Team Canada” mantra while all four of Andretti Autosport’s full-season drivers are American.

For Hinchcliffe, Wickens’ background, even if it hasn’t been in the single-seater realm since 2011, was a big selling point in adding him to the team.

“In Robby, we have a proven winner at a very high level. The level of technical expertise that he comes with from his time in DTM is very impressive,” he said of Wickens’ technical background.

Hinchcliffe added that Wickens’ ability to analyze the car and its setup was evidenced in two outings: one at Sebing International Raceway in March, in part of a “ride swap” between the two longtime friends, and a second at Road America, when he subbed on Friday practice for Mikhail Aleshin.

Wickens sampled Hinchcliffe’s No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda earlier this year. Photo: IndyCar

Hinchcliffe revealed that Wickens’ feedback to the team and his ability to quickly adapt to the chassis took everyone somewhat by surprise.

“We did our ride swap. He had two hours in the car, hardly anything even resembling a test day, and his performance was pretty impressive. No doubt the time in Road America helped because that really gave us a better sense of his technical feedback, integrated with the team a little bit more. Everybody was happy to work with him on that day,” said Hinchcliffe.

Further still, Hinchcliffe is firm in his belief that the 2018 aero kit and its reduction in aerodynamic downforce will fall right into Wickens’ wheelhouse, based on Hinchcliffe’s own take after sampling Wickens’ DTM Mercedes earlier this year.

“In all honesty, I was saying earlier today, the 2018 car is probably better suited for him than the 2017 car because of the experience he’s had the last handful of series,” Hinchcliffe asserted.

“The (aero kit) was such high downforce, it would be a big change coming out of DTM. But with the loss of downforce that we’ve seen, the car is moving around a little bit more, brake zones, things like that, it won’t be as big a transition I think. Just based on the experience that I got in our ride swap, I think he’s going to adapt very quickly, be comfortable very quickly, and as a result be competitive very quickly. So it’s going to be exciting.”

As for expectations heading into next year, team co-owner Schmidt did not mince words and expects the team’s performance to resemble what they did in 2012, 2013, and 2014, when they won a total of four races (with driver Simon Pagenaud) and finished in the top five in the championship each year.

“We had a stint in ’12, ’13, ’14 where we finished fifth in the points (or better. I think we want to get back to that level of competition,” Schmidt added. “We felt like we were missing things in having two cars with equal funding and equal drivers and equal capabilities. We think this gets back there.”

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