Report: Will Marcos Ambrose return to native Australia and V8 Supercars to race for Roger Penske?

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Richard Petty made a seemingly off-hand remark during January’s annual NASCAR preseason media tour that he wasn’t sure whether one of his drivers, Marcos Ambrose, would still be racing in Sprint Cup in 2015.

“I don’t know how much longer he wants to stay in the U.S.,” Petty said. “You know, he’s 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’s contract expires with Richard Petty Motorsports at the end of this season.

Now comes a report from AutoSport.com’s Mark Glendenning that links Ambrose with legendary race team owner Roger Penske’s possible plans to form a V8 Supercars team to race as early as next year in Ambrose’s native Australia.

Coincidence? Or did Petty know something more than he was leading on when he made that comment about Ambrose and his future more than two months ago?

Although Penske said it’s still “early” about plans to expand his motorsports empire overseas into either V8 Supercars or other forms of sports car racing, Australia definitely has his attention.

“We’re potentially looking at Australia,” Penske said, according to AutoSport. “As soon as you talk to them that’s the first thing they want to know: ‘Are you interested in V8 Supercars?’ So that might be something we do at some point.”

But the V8 Supercars landscape could potentially be significantly altered next season. Penske is affiliated with Ford in NASCAR and Chevrolet in IndyCar.

“The issue that you have is that the manufacturers are pulling out of manufacturing in Australia,” Penske said. “Holden is coming out, Ford is coming out, Toyota is coming out.

“And now, V8s aren’t what people are buying – people are buying turbocharged, direct-injected 1.8 liters or 2.0 liters.

“And you’ve got Mercedes in [V8 Supercars] now, Volvo is in, Nissan is in, so it’s starting to open up. So it will be interesting to see whether there is an opportunity for us with some manufacturer.”

Before he came to NASCAR, Ambrose won a pair of V8 Supercar championships in his homeland.

And if the AutoSport report of Ambrose potentially racing for Penske is correct, might Petty already be quietly starting to shop around for a potential replacement for Ambrose for next season?

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F1: Red Bull Racing confirms switch to Honda engines next season

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Honda will become Red Bull’s engine supplier from next season after the Formula One team confirmed its anticipated split with Renault on Tuesday.

The Japanese manufacturer will supply engines for 2019 and 2020, and Red Bull team principal Christian Horner hailed the deal as “an exciting new phase” in the bid to return to the top of F1.

“After careful consideration and evaluation, we are certain this partnership with Honda is the right direction for the team,” Horner said in a team statement. “We have been impressed by Honda’s commitment to F1, by the rapid steps they have made in recent times with our (feeder) team Toro Rosso.”

It is a boost for Honda, which was unceremoniously dumped by McLaren at the end of last year.

Honda has started this season brightly as engine provider for Toro Rosso, and this may have been a key factor in Red Bull finally ditching Renault.

“Honda’s alignment with both Red Bull Formula One teams provides enormous potential,” Horner said. “Honda will have access to a wealth of data from both outfits, with Aston Martin Red Bull Racing leading the way, and the opportunities for faster, more effective and more competitive development are doubled.”

The deal brings to an end Red Bull’s 12-year partnership with Renault.

Although relations became increasingly strained between the two parties in recent years, it was once a dream partnership as Red Bull and Renault won four straight drivers’ and constructors’ championships with Sebastian Vettel behind the wheel from 2010-13.

During that glory era, Vettel and teammate Mark Webber won 47 grand prix. Since 2013, results have somewhat dried up and there have been only 10 race wins.

“We have sometimes had our differences but Renault has always worked tirelessly and to the best of its ability to provide us with a competitive power unit,” Horner said.

He was not always quite so complimentary about Renault. He has regularly and publicly criticized Renault’s reliability in recent years – although it has been hard to judge sometimes.

Red Bull showed good speed toward the end of last season when Max Verstappen won two races, and teammate Daniel Ricciardo won this season’s Chinese GP with a brilliant drive. The difference in speed between Red Bull and Mercedes appears less than before, although Ferrari remains noticeably quicker.

Verstappen’s form has picked up after a poor start to 2018, marred by crashes, and he has taken third place in two of the past three races.

Meanwhile, McLaren’s partnership with Renault has not been as successful as they anticipated after dropping Honda following three fruitless seasons together.

Two-time F1 champion Fernando Alonso has failed to finish the past two races and has yet to place higher than fifth. Renault teammate Nico Hulkenberg has a best finish of fourth place.