It has admittedly not been an easy return to V8 Supercars racing for former NASCAR driver Marcos Ambrose.
A former two-time Supercars champion, Ambrose returned to his native Australia after last year’s NASCAR season, intent on picking up where he left off when he left Supercars at the end of the 2005 season.
Unfortunately, it hasn’t played out that way. Anything that could go wrong seemed to go wrong for Ambrose at the start of the season, prompting him to take a lengthy leave from the joint Dick Johnson-Roger Penske owned team.
But Ambrose is back and sporting both confidence and enhanced performance.
In this weekend’s Wilson Security Sandown 500, Ambrose and co-driver Scott Pye managed to finish 12th out of 25 entries in the 161-lap event, just 26 seconds behind winners Mark Winterbottom and Steve Owen.
Earlier in the weekend in the first practice session – and his first return to Sandown in 10 years (he won there in 2002 and 2004) – Ambrose surprised many in the crowd by netting the third-fastest speed.
But just like the beginning of the season, Ambrose went from feeling high to down when the driver of the No. 17 Xbox Falcon FG X was penalized a hefty $5,000 for an improper practice start.
Prior to the weekend, Ambrose explained why he was coming back at this time and what he expected going forward.
“My role is quite clear at Sandown and all the Endurance races,” Ambrose said in a DJR Racing Team Penske release. “I will be supporting Scott in every way possible. I am looking forward to getting back in the car and can see the improvements the team has made since I stepped back after the Grand Prix.
“As a driver pairing I think we are in good shape. We have the car set up close to the way we both like it, the compromises in the cockpit are not too bad, and I have watched every race closely this year and can see the progress that has been made.”
Given the decent showing he had over the course of this weekend, Ambrose now has his sights set on one of the biggest races of the year, the Supercheap Auto Bathhurst 1000 endurance race, from Oct. 8-11.
“I’ve had a brilliant career and I’ve raced in many parts of the world, but the tracks that stick out are few and far between,” Ambrose told V8Supercars.com. “One of them, without doubt, is Bathurst.
“It’s one of the most iconic tracks in the world – it really is a gnarly, narrow, mountainous course and there aren’t many tracks like that around the world.
“I’m looking forward to going back, just to drive the track, experience one of these modern V8 Supercars around there. I haven’t been there since 2005, there’s been a lot of changes made to the place since then so I’m just looking forward to going there and seeing it and experiencing it from behind the wheel.”
During his previous tenure in Supercars, Ambrose struggled several times to win Bathurst, one of the series’ premier races.
“It certainly is one of those races that eluded me,” Ambrose told V8Supercars.com. “I’ve only had five goes at it – people forget that – three of those years we were blowing tires all day, so two good years we had a shot and came up short.
“So yeah, I’d love to win it. It’s certainly a trophy that’s missing from the cabinet and I’ve got a good chance this year. … I’m looking forward to going to Bathurst and I feel like we’ve got a shot to win it, and I’m going to try and win it.”
After Bathurst, three races remain on the 28-race Supercars schedule. While Ambrose is out of contention for the overall championship, he can still make some noise – not to mention get a head start on 2016.
“This has been a trying year for us, but it’s certainly not going to define DJR Team Penske,” Ambrose told Motorsport.com. “They’re going to come back in 2016 really strong, and we’re going to keep building for the rest of this season.”
Likewise, his unexpected struggles upon returning to his homeland and Supercars will not define him, either, Ambrose said.
“My career … is not going to be defined by three races,” Ambrose told FoxSports.com.au. “I’m not going to sit here and say if I do well in the three (remaining) races, I’m going to come back full-time. It’s not about that.
“It’s just about whether it is right for me and whether I want to keep going down the path or do I want to do something different.
“We’ll come to that decision when it’s right. But it’s not now and it’s certainly not a conversation we have had as a team. It’s not on our radar, we are going to get through these three races and do the best we can there and work it out.”