Paul Gover climbs aboard with Marcos Ambrose for his first day on the job with the reshaped Penske/DJR V8 Supercar team.
Wow, can Marcos Ambrose drive. Or, I should say, he can still drive.
Fresh back from his nine-year NASCAR experiment in the USA, we’re heading for the flat-out kink at Lakeside Raceway north of Brisbane with the speedo winding around towards 250km/h. I’m sucking in my breath, ready for a big scare on one of the toughest corners in Australia, but Ambrose is all business and there is not even a tenth-of-a-second of worry.
He is sublime. Fast but totally relaxed, even though this is just his fifth lap back in a right-hand drive racer. The V8 Supercar Falcon is being coaxed around at massive speed but, like all the best sportspeople in any game, he seems to have more time than he needs.
Only twice does the back end slide wide on the Xbox racer, and both times Ambrose is ahead of the car and gently pulls it back into line. After less than two minutes we’re back in the pits and he’s smiling his familiar smile.
“Well?”, he asks.
“Bloody marvellous,” I manage to stammer.
That’s the big difference in Ambrose 2014. He is asking because he really wants to know. And he cares.
The Ambrose who left for the USA was pumped-up on racing, but totally focussed on himself and his results. Even he admits it.
I think I’m a better driver now. I’m certainly no worse than I was.
"My last time around in V8 Supercars I was so focussed that I just didn’t see anything beyond the track. That is part of my rounding from NASCAR. I appreciate what I’ve got more. I’m just looking forward to giving my fans and the sport my very best,” Ambrose said.
He is one of the most talented and focused touring car drivers in the history of the sport, and that bit has not changed. As he confirms.
“I think I’m a better driver now. I’m certainly no worse than I was. Whether I can bring those skills and adapt them to a modern V8 Supercar I don’t know. Yet.
“I am totally immersed in this new deal, and highly motivated to make this thing a success. It’s a dream opportunity. I’m going to throw everything I’ve got at it. I’ve certainly got a lot of drive and determination.”
With that, Ambrose goes back to work. Lakeside is his first shot at a V8 Supercar and he wants to maximise his track time ahead of two official tests at Queensland Raceway ahead of the Sydney 500.
Ambrose is not making any bold predictions, but only a fool would write him off. And, after those hot laps at Lakeside I’m no fool.
“Today is the first step. Me behind the wheel and getting going. I’m not too worried about Sydney. I think it’s all going to be worthwhile once we get into 2015.”