Marcos Ambrose finishes 16th in V8 Sydney feature

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After two tough sprint races on Saturday, ex-NASCAR racer Marcos Ambrose picked up the pace overnight in the 250-kilometer feature race of the Sydney 500.

Armed with a No. 66 Xbox/DJR Team Penske Ford Falcon that was more to his liking than it was on Saturday, Ambrose pushed from 23rd on the grid to a 16th place finish in a race that was called shortly after heavy rains again wreaked havoc on the Homebush course and forced a red flag at Lap 44.

Despite treacherous conditions at the start of the race, Ambrose climbed into the Top 20 by the time he flipped to slick tires on his Ford. He made further progress up the pylon prior to his second stop, and was running firmly in mid-pack before another storm settled in over the Olympic Park-based track – with lots of lightning to go with it.

Ambrose was pleased with a better performance on Sunday, but was already looking forward to getting more test time with the Ford prior to his 2015 full-time V8 program with DJR Team Penske.

“Today, it all started to click in the Xbox Falcon, despite the weather conditions,” he said. “I am much happier today than where we started and I think there is a small window of light coming through now. I am already looking forward to getting back in the car for the two day test at Eastern Creek and staring work on this new deal.

“It has been a tough weekend, no doubt about it, but we kept the car straight and finished all the laps available in all the races, which is what I wanted to do. The weather was a factor too, but it did allow me to experience a lot of different things and I do feel a bit more rounded after not driving these cars for 9 years.

“I’ve got a long way to go and I just hope the team is patient with me and we can build this thing into a winning combination.”

Fortunately for him, it would appear that at least one of his new bosses – Penske Racing president Tim Cindric – is willing to let Ambrose’s re-acclimation to V8 racing play out.

On Twitter, he compared Ambrose’s current situation to the one Juan Pablo Montoya experienced this past year when he returned to IndyCar racing for Team Penske after a long stint in NASCAR:

In the Sydney Morning Herald’s own assessment of Ambrose’s return weekend, Cindric added: “I think Ambrose has really handled it well, he’s a true professional. We didn’t really know what to expect before he came here.

“Without a doubt, he’s continued to progress…We have a lot of work to do.”

Shane Van Gisbergen won Sunday’s feature after front-runner Garth Tander spun out on a rain-slicked course just moments before the Safety Car came out due to the deteriorating conditions.

Tander was forced to settle for second, while James Courtney picked up the last spot on the podium. V8 driver’s champion Jamie Whincup finished fourth.

The 2015 V8 calendar will begin with a two-day test session at Sydney Motorsport Park (Eastern Creek) on Feb. 7-8. The first race weekend of the year is Feb. 26-March 1 in Adelaide, Australia.

April 9 in Motorsports History: Al Unser Jr. gets sixth Long Beach win

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The list of winners in the Grand Prix of Long Beach is a ‘who’s who’ of open-wheel racing.

Mario Andretti won at the famed street course four times. His son Michael won there twice.

Paul Tracy is also a four-time winner at the beach. Alex Zanardi, Juan Pablo Montoya, Sebastien Bourdais, and Alexander Rossi also have won at the famed course multiple times.

But there is only one “King of the Beach”: Al Unser Jr.

The winningest driver in the race’s history, Unser won at Long Beach four consecutive times from 1988-91. He won again in 1994 and entered the 1995 edition as the race’s defending champion and the defending CART champion as well.

Starting fourth, Unser made slight contact with Gil de Ferran when he passed the Brazilian on Lap 3. He then continued to move up to the front, taking the race lead from Teo Fabi on Lap 30.

Once he had the lead, Unser ran away from the field, winning by more than 23 seconds over Scott Pruett.

Unser’s victory was such a familiar scene that after the race, CART news manager John Procida began the winner’s news conference with the following statement: “Well, we have a very familiar face on the top rung of the podium. As we listed on the prerace press release, this seems to be the Al Unser Invitational.”

Indeed it was. Unser’s victory was his sixth at Long Beach, and the 28th of his career. overall. While it would be his last win there, Unser continued to race at Long Beach through 1998 before missing 1999 with a broken leg and moving to the Indy Racing Leauge in 2000.

In 2009, Unser was inducted into the Long Beach Motorsports Walk of Fame, which honors significant contributors to the race and California motorsports community.

“It truly is just an honor to be mentioned with the names and the legends that have already been put into the sidewalk,” Unser said during the induction ceremony. “To have Brian (Redman, the inaugural winner of the race) and Parnelli (Jones) is really an honor and just to be in their company is very, very special.”

Also on this date:

1971: Jacques Villeneuve was born in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Canada. The second-generation driver was one of the best in open-wheel racing during the 1990s, winning the Indianapolis 500 and CART championship in ’95 and becoming a Formula One champion two years later.

1989: Rick Mears dominated CART’s Checker Autoworks 200 at Phoenix International Raceway, leading every lap from the pole and lapping the field.

2011: Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas won the Porsche 250 at Barber Motorsports Park, their sixth consecutive victory in Grand Am competition. Their lengthy win streak, which started on Aug. 7, 2010 at Watkins Glen, prompted Grand Am to offer a $25,000 bounty for any Daytona Prototype team that could beat the dominant duo. The Action Express trio of Joao Barbosa, J.C. France, and Terry Borcheller finally unseated Pruett and Rojas in the series’ next round at Virginia International Raceway.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter @michaele1994