It’s official: Marcos Ambrose will return to Australia to race V8 Supercars for Roger Penske

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JOLIET, Ill. – Richard Petty Motorsports announced on Saturday that Marcos Ambrose would not be returning to the team or NASCAR for the 2015 season.

Just over 24 hours later, Team Penske announced that it has hired Ambrose to compete for the V8 Supercars championship in his native Australia next season.

“Team Penske is excited to partner with Dick Johnson Racing to compete in the V8 Supercars Championship starting next season,” team owner Roger Penske said in a media release.

Dick Johnson Racing is an existing Supercars organization of which Penske will become a significant investor in.

“We believe in building our businesses through racing and our success on the track,” Penske said. “With our new business ventures in Australia, it makes sense to showcase our brands through the V8 Supercars Championship and the opportunity to work with DJR and Marcos Ambrose convinced us to go forward.”

It will be three-pronged homecoming for Ambrose, who turned 38 two weeks ago:

First, he’ll be returning to his native Australia.

Second, he’ll also be returning to the same racing series in which he won championships in 2003 and 2004, and finished third in 2005 before moving to the U.S. to begin his NASCAR career.

Third, he’ll remain in the Ford camp, as he was with RPM, driving the No. 17 Ford in the Supercars series.

The Team Penske release referred to Ambrose as “a true hero of Australian motorsports behind the wheel.” In 65 Supercars races between 2001 to 2005, Ambrose won nearly half (28).

A native of Launceston, Tasmania, Ambrose leaves NASCAR having earned a combined seven wins and eight pole positions in the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series over the past nine seasons.

“This is a great opportunity to return home to a place that I love in a Series where I’ve experienced a lot of success,” Ambrose said. “It will be an honor to race for two motorsport legends in Roger Penske and Dick Johnson.”

The media release also noted that “Team Penske has produced more than 400 race wins and 26 national championships in its storied history, while DJR has earned over 80 victories and seven Australian Touring Car/V8 Supercar titles in over 35 years of racing.”

Johnson is a five-time Australian Touring Car champion, and also won the prestigious Bathurst 1000 three different times. He retired from racing in 1999 to field his own race team.

“We are certainly looking forward to this new challenge,” Johnson said. “I have always admired what Roger Penske has accomplished in business and with his racing teams and it will be a thrill to work with Team Penske and Marcos in 2015.”

A global teleconference is scheduled for Monday evening to give more details of Ambrose’s new deal. The teleconference will include Ambrose, Johnson and Penske. It will also likely be learned whether Ambrose will finish this season with RPM or if he’ll leave early to begin the next phase of his racing career.

 

Marcos Ambrose V8 Supercar Career Highlights:

* 2003/2004 V8 Supercar Champion.
* 15 round wins from 65 rounds between 2001 and 2005 – 23 percent winning rate.
* 30 podium finishes from those 65 rounds – 46 percent strike rate.
* 18 pole positions from those 65 rounds.
* Winner of 28 individual V8 Supercar Championship races.
* 2001 Bathurst 1000 Pole Sitter (second rookie in history to take pole as a rookie).
* 1 of only 12 multiple champions in Australian Touring Car/V8 Supercar Championship history.
* 1 of only 9 drivers in Australian Touring Car/V8 Supercar Championship history to win back-to-back championships.
* 1 of just 5 drivers to win back-to-back championships in Fords.

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Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).