'My natural skill set obviously is road racing'
Marcos Ambrose, driver of the No. 9 Ford Fusion, heads into the first road course race of the season this weekend looking for his first win at Sonoma Raceway. Ambrose spoke about his success on road courses and more in the weekly NASCAR teleconference Wednesday.
MARCOS, WITH YOUR RACING BACKGROUND, THE ROAD COURSES HAVE ALWAYS BEEN A PRIME OPPORTUNITY FOR YOU AND YOUR TEAM TO SCORE A WIN. WITH THE NEW CHASE FORMAT, HOW MUCH OF A BIGGER BULLSEYE ARE THE RACES AT SONOMA AND WATKINS GLEN THIS SEASON KNOWING A WIN COULD ALL BUT LOCK YOU INTO THE CHASE BEFORE YOU GET TO RICHMOND.
MARCOS AMBROSE, No. 9 Stanley Ford Fusion – “You pretty much exactly said it as it is. We know that the race here this weekend in Watkins Glen, the two road races, are our best chance to win a race this year. That will automatically lock us into the Chase. Clearly there's a lot to race for at these two tracks for us. We've put a lot of energy and effort into Sonoma. We went out there and did the Goodyear tire test earlier in the season. We've done some road course testing as well, so we feel we're as ready as we can be.”
BECAUSE YOU PERFORM EXCEPTIONALLY WELL ON ROAD COURSE RACES, DO YOU PREPARE DIFFERENTLY FOR THIS WEEKEND COMPARED TO ANY OTHER RACETRACKS?
“Not really. My natural skill set obviously is road racing. I'm quite confident on the ovals but haven't had the same success I've had on the road courses. Really it's just the years of training. It's my niche. I feel very comfortable road racing. I feel like I can apply myself well on the weekend. The biggest thing I try to do on a buildup to a weekend like this, there's pressure building, there's a chance to lock yourself into the Chase, which would make your season, you get a chance to win a Sprint Cup race, which you don't get to do very often. What I do this weekend is not try to think about it, be normal, try to relax leading into this week. It's always a pressure‑filled environment. The more you think about it, the worse you tend to go. I try to rely on my instincts there. I don't do anything special this week in preparation for it. But I also know there's a lot on the line and that pressure is all present. Whatever you can do to try to minimize the pressure is a good thing.”
IF YOU'RE ABLE TO WIN THIS WEEKEND AND LOCK YOURSELF INTO THE CHASE, WHAT WOULD THAT MEAN TO YOU AND YOUR RACE TEAM?
“Well, it certainly would make our year. We know our year is not complete if you can't make the Chase. It's like you haven't qualified for the finals. I haven't made it to the Chase yet. This format will give us our best chance to do it, if we can win a race at either Watkins Glen or Sonoma. We know that. It would really make our year, no doubt about it. It would certainly make our sponsors and Richard Petty very happy. We can't do anything but go out there and try and do it. Talking isn't going to get it done. But we all know what is at stake. I think our team has prepared the car as best we can and I'm as ready as I can be and we'll see if we can get it done.”
THE NEW AERO RULES, TIRE RULES, HOW DO YOU EXPECT THE NEW RULES TO HAVE AN IMPACT ON THE ROAD COURSE?
“Yeah, it's a really good question. We certainly have seen on the ovals that the teams are trying to get the car down low, they're trying to take full advantage of that aero platform, getting very stiff setups under the car to do that. We don't know really how it's going to fall here at the road race because we have different issues road racing. We can't necessarily get the car as low as we do on an oval because we have curves to consider, we have a lot change in forces on the brakes through acceleration, which is going to make the car pitch. You need some of that movement in the car to really make the car handle well. You don't want to make it too stiff, otherwise you wear your tires out too fast. I think there's going to be different strategies going into this weekend. I'm going to be one of the drivers that has a keen eye on the attitude of the car in pit lane, down the garage area, looking at what teams are doing to go fast. We're going to have to work it on the fly. We have a certain direction we're going to head down. I'm not saying it's right. The opening of the rules, the ability to set the car height‑wise wherever you want it will certainly change the setup at Sonoma and I'll be interested to see what works out.”
DOES THE EXTRA DOWNFORCE HELP A GUY LIKE YOU OR DOES IT MORE EVEN UP THE FIELD?
“We did the test out there for Goodyear. Really the track didn't feel that much different. I know there is more downforce in the car, but the balance is the same, the struggles are the same around there. You're always looking for grip. You're always looking to get good ride quality over the curves. The biggest thing for us is tire loss. I've had the fastest car out there the last two years, but not for 10 laps in a row. We've always been fast for a few laps, but I always wear the tires out fast. Our focus this year is to really look after those tires. The downforce I thought was really going to help that, but the test, it didn't feel like it was much different.”
CAN YOU DESCRIBE THE CHALLENGE OF MAINTAINING SPEED OVER A LONG RUN THERE AT SONOMA? YOU SAID YOU GUYS HAVE BEEN FAST FOR A SHORTER SPELL. I KNOW EVERYBODY FALLS OFF. THE RATE IS A LITTLE BIT DIFFERENT FOR YOU GUYS THAN SOME OTHERS.
“Yeah, that's certainly the case. It's a combination of a lot of factors. Certainly the car has got a lot of power so it's really hard to keep the rear tires. You can burn them up so quick. Second thing, the car is really heavy, one of the heaviest racecars you'll ever see. We don't have enough tire patch on the ground. The tires are probably too small for the weight we're carrying. The brakes are small, so we get a lot of temperature in the brakes which gets transferred into the tires. You have a lot of factors in the car itself to burn tires up. Then you combine that with the track at Sonoma. It's one of the tightest, most challenging tracks you can go to which is very hard on tires, too. It has an exceptional level of grip. You have all these factors coming together that make tire life a real challenge around there. I haven't found the magic to make our tires last there. Certainly it's the biggest question mark going into this year's race for me. I know we're going to go fast. I know we have the ability to qualify on the front row. Do we have enough durability to make the tires last for a full fuel run? I think you saw last year only a handful of teams were able to get that. Every year some team seems to have a clear advantage than others. Hopefully we can be that team this year. It's certainly a gray area going into the race and I'm concerned about it. If we're going to lose the race, it will be because we can't keep the tires underneath us.”
WITH BEING ABLE TO DO THE TIRE TEST, I'M SURE YOU'RE ON DIFFERENT SORTS OF TIRES, BUT I GUESS YOU WERE ON THE TIRES THAT WERE GOING TO BE RUN THIS WEEKEND. DID THAT HELP YOU OR FURTHER MUDDLE THE THOUGHTS OF HOW TO MAKE THOSE TIRES LAST?
“Yeah, certainly we were happy to go for Goodyear when they asked us to go out there because we thought it could be a small advantage to find out what they tried to bring back to the track. I know the combination of tires they had there were a mixed bag between grip and durability and loss. They were chasing the tire to last longer, which is a good thing. We set our car up the same from the very first lap to the last lap so Goodyear can get a good reference on the different tires construction and codes, to give them the best feedback. We didn't necessarily get an advantage on what we need to go back there. It was just good to actually see what Goodyear were trying to do so we can try to mirror what their efforts are to our setups. We learnt some. We were chasing the weather there some, got rained out, which hurt us for track time. I certainly think it didn't hurt us being out there and helping Goodyear do that tire test.”
DO YOU THINK ROAD COURSE RACING SHOULD BE ADDED TO THE CHASE OR THE SPRINT CUP GIVEN THERE'S DIFFERENT TYPES OF RACING ELSEWHERE?
“I get this question every year, and it's always around the time we go road racing. People seem to ask the same thing. I'm not going to second guess what NASCAR are doing. They've got a Chase format. They've built this sport up to what it is today. The idea of the Chase is to find the best driver and team for the year, allow them to race for the championship. There is an argument to say if you want to be the complete package, you have to be good on road courses as well. But I'm happy with the schedule. If I can win a race here road racing, it's going to lock me in the Chase, it's a real win for me. Would I like to see more road races? I think the fans need to be asked that question, not the drivers. Really our sport is about the fans, what they like to see. Anecdotally, there's always a huge crowd at Sonoma and Watkins Glen. They seem to get good ratings on TV. There is an argument there you could have more road races in the schedule. But certainly I'm not the one promoting that. I'll just let NASCAR make their choices.”