An Interview With: MARCOS AMBROSE
THE MODERATOR: Welcome in advance of Sunday's Toyota Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway. With us today is Marcos Ambrose, he's the driver of the No. 9 Stanley Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports. He heads into Infineon 21st in the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings, and has probably a hint of revenge on his mind. Marcos is a superb road racer and in addition to being a superb NASCAR driver, and he led last year's event only to see a possible win evaporate there in the late stages.
Marcos, I suspect you've replayed that strategy a few times in your head.
MARCOS AMBROSE: I sure have. I've lost no sleep on it. Racing is all about split second decisions and choices you make. I'm just looking forward to a fresh chance to go there and win, but a brand new team, Stanley have put a lot of effort behind the race with a new sponsor and we have some great programs around the Children's Miracle Network, and there's all sorts of things to look forward to and I'm really optimistic about our chances.
We've done all the testing preparation we can do to be ready for it.
THE MODERATOR: One of those activities you mentioned I know that gives you another very important motivation for reaching victory lane on Sunday. Why don't you tell us about it before you get started.
MARCOS AMBROSE: Stanley Ford have put together a fantastic program with the Children's Miracle Network and we are going to be Racing for a Miracle, and we will feature a special paint scheme for the weekend, one child from every state who has either been a patient or still in the care of the Children's Miracle Network. We are going to have their story on the car and we are going to donate $1 million to the Children's Miracle Network if I can win the race. And if I really mess it up and come dead last, we are still going to donate $100,000.
Obviously there's pride at stake and also the charity that we have chosen, and I'm lucky, I've got a healthy young family and I know I'm lucky and blessed. There are families there are not as fortunate. It's wonderful that Stanley and the Richard Petty Motorsports Team can give back this way and hopefully win a million bucks for the kids.
Q. Obviously life as a Sprint Cup Series driver is very hectic but I was wondering what you do to sort of give yourself some downtime and get away from it all. What's your hobby or the thing you like to do to relax?
MARCOS AMBROSE: Well, 80-percent of my time is directly associated to it and getting to, from or at the race track. Also we are raising a family, so there's not a lot of down time, but when I do, obviously I like to spend time with my kids and family and I also like getting outside, too.
I've actually picked up a hobby of gold panning of all things. I'll be heading to California this weekend and I really enjoy just driving over to a few local areas near the racetrack that have some gold history and stuff like that. It's a good hobby to have. I can do research on the race track and then get out in the field when I travel around the country.
Q. Thanks for being here today. NASCAR seems to be going through a period where it's trying to figure out how aggressive it wants to allow its drivers to be on the track and even after races. Heading into a raceway that's known for a lot of contact, do you know where you stand on this issue?
MARCOS AMBROSE: Sure, I'm a good boy, so I don't get in trouble. But yeah, NASCAR has an open policy. They let the drivers duke it out on the racetrack. They try to let the drivers settle it between themselves on the racetrack, so they don't have to worry about it during the week.
I come from a racing series where you get penalties after the fact; the winner's get their win taken away through protest and all that kind of stuff that go on for weeks, months, sometimes even years. So I think the way NASCAR handle drivers conduct is appropriate for our sport.
I think it's great for the fans to see the story get told live in front of them, whether they are at the racetrack or on TV, and they can see who the heroes and villains are in the sport. And NASCAR can control it when it gets too far out of hand they bring us back some.
I don't expect to have any trouble at Sonoma. Everyone knows it's a really tight racetrack and there's going to be contacts throughout the day. You're going to push others as much as you get pushed yourself. As long as you can be aggressive but not silly I think everyone out there on the racetrack understands what kind of racetrack it is and what can happen.
Q. Just wondered if you could kind of go through a little bit what was going through your mind last year when that happened. Obviously you're thinking, this is it, you get your first Sprint Cup win. Can you just walk through the terror are that went through your mind when the car stalled and wouldn't refire.
MARCOS AMBROSE: We were doing great in the race, we had a good strategy although the way it was running down, I was running out of tires, running out of fuel, and getting ready for a late restart. And I don't need to look back on what happened last year; it is what it is. I couldn't get the motor refired for whatever reason.
This year we have a brand new team, brand new chief, brand new sponsor and brand new carburetor, so I should have no issues. Just looking forward to getting out there and trying to win it.
Q. Getting away from road courses, I know you're an excellent road course racer, how much have you had to adjust to the ovals, and do you have a favorite oval in the Sprint Cup Series?
MARCOS AMBROSE: Oval racing is really my passion these days. I've road raced in my life and it's a great side of the sport but it is not what makes NASCAR what it is. Oval racing and mile-and-a-half mile races in particular, really is, I think, the pure form of NASCAR. I can't get enough of it.
I'm learning every time I hit the racetrack. This year more than any other I'm starting to get a feel of what I need to run well and some of the tricks and techniques that you need with all of the people around to you help make it happen.
So I really feel that, you know, when I get to Dover or Kansas, Kentucky coming up is going to be great, Texas, Vegas, Charlotte, all of these high-speed one-and-a-half-mile or less racetracks really is a lot of fun and a very pure part of the sport.
Yeah, I don't know what the answer is, Jimmie Johnson for a championship or Carl Edwards right now, but I'm working at it and our team is working at it and I think it's just a matter of time.
Q. When we talk about road courses compared to ovals, the racing is different, but how about for you in the race car? Can you speak of -- I guess, maybe the difference in the physical demands when you're running on a road course, especially one like Infineon Raceway?
MARCOS AMBROSE: Sure, there's a lot going on behind the wheel. You're obviously changing gears, you're turning left and right, you're managing front and left brake pressure, sometimes you're doing it together. The track is undulating and there's a lot of dust that's get thrown off by other cars that run across the track.
There's just a lot going on on a road course. You really have to stay very focus on your own car and not really worry about whether a guy is pulling away for a lap or two. It normally balances out.
Physically it's quite challenging with the heat and the amount of work that you have to do, and I think mentally it's the toughest part, because I've run up road racing, for me, I can tell you that I can run three or four hours in a road race car and I'll be fine.
But when you have not done it for a year, you know, it just seems to mentally be really demanding, and mistakes creep in: Locking up tires on the brakes, too much wheel spin, getting greedy on the gas pedal, coming up in the corners, and all that have stuff can make or break your race. For me, I think mistakes by drivers is the biggest thing that you see road racing compared to ovals.
You can follow Tony Stewart or Matt Kenseth, at the end of a 500 mile-oval race, they don't make mistakes. But when you go road racing, mistakes are part of life, and I think as drivers get tired, mistakes get more prevalent.
Q. Do you become a much more popular guy in the garage area during these road race weekends? Do you have other drivers coming to you for advice and saying, my car is doing this or doing that, or is it pretty much like a normal weekend?
MARCOS AMBROSE: I think Stanley like it. I think they are going to enjoy this weekend. They want to run up front and I want to try to get them in victory lane. The boys are really pumped up to and put a lot of effort into the road course here.
I guess I become, you know, the hare, and I'm out front. I normally have a pretty diving (ph) car; people want to follow me in practice to find out what my lines are and how my car is performing. You have got to be a little cagey, you don't want to give the game away. You don't want to be rude but of course you have your own race to play on Sunday.
I normally try to find my own space on the racetrack and I don't ever let anybody see how my car is handling or what I'm working on. I try to keep everything, 0much like the speed, so that you don't put it all on the table until qualifying.
Q. Curious, did you go home to Australia at all in the last year, and do people ask you about what happened or did they avoid the conversation with you?
MARCOS AMBROSE: Thanks, I'm trying to forget about it to be honest with you.
Not really. Races come and you make split-second decisions out there. It's the closest I've been to winning a race so far and clearly it's on people's mind this weekend but it doesn't matter.
I didn't go home this year. I just had too much to do with the Richard Petty Motorsports merger and joining a new team and so forth. This is the first year I have not been back to Australia. And right now my kids and family are actually vacationing in Australia. The kids and wife have gone back there. I tell what you, NASCAR is where it is for me right now. I'm sitting here talking about Sonoma; I just want to get there and racing and try to win it.
Q. If it comes down to fuel mileage or saving fuel, do you have to do anything different this year, as far as because of either not knowing exactly maybe how much you get in or with the E-15 fuel?
MARCOS AMBROSE: Sure, I mean, clearly fuel mileage is less than what it was last year with the new fuel. And I've got a new motor program. The BF9 Ford motor generate a lot of power and using quite a bit of fuel. So clearly we are going to have to do things differently than last year. I have a new carburetor and systems to play with when we get there. I'm looking forward to and I think we still have a great chance to play a fuel mileage race, I think it's still going to be a major factor in the outcome of the race.
Last year we shifted (ph) the fuel in our performance and forced everyone to pit when we did, and it worked out in our favor. I think that fuel is going to be a talking point in the weekend. Whether it turns into a fuel mileage race, I don't know.
Q. Do you think will teams have to adjust how they figure out if they try to work the race backwards, or where to pit, if the tank is full on each pit stop?
MARCOS AMBROSE: Depends on whether you can do it in two or three stops and how the race will pan out from that, and yeah, I actually don't know the breakup of the weekend. Until I get there and I see the fuel mileage numbers after practiced and then we start to calculate how far we can go because it's a bit of an unknown right now. I haven't been concerned about whether we can make the right 30 or 40 or whatever it is. We have to work that out when we get there.
It's going to be unique to your style and each team and how they run their carburetors and how they manage their fuel burn. We have a lot of work getting ready for it as best we can because we know we are going to have to try to be as aggressive as fuel saving as we can but we can't give up performance.
We'll work it out when we get there. I think every team is going to be watching, not just us, but the major players at road races and how they look to conduct that first pit stop, because it really -- after the first pit stop, you start to work out what everyone is trying to do.
Q. Since there's so much of a representation that follows you on road races, do you feel more pressure to get that first Sprint Cup win in this particular race and if so how do you handle it?
MARCOS AMBROSE: Sure I feel pressure, especially with Stanley and the charity they have put together this year for Sonoma. A million dollars, if I can win the race goes to the Children's Miracle Network, it's a huge incentive. I've never really raced with that kind of premise before, and it means a lot to me to give back like that. Yeah, there is pressure and people have expectations of performance so.
No doubt, it's not like -- that being said I know what I'm doing on road races and I know what I need to feel and I know what I'm looking for out there. So I really enjoy the road race format and looking forward to getting to Sonoma and chasing my car out against competition and seeing where we are at in practice.
And yeah, it's just great to be talked about, it's great to be viewed as a contender, and I want to make it that way. I want to make it stick this year, and get the Stanley Ford for Richard Petty up on the top step of victory lane and celebrate it.
Q. In preparing a car for a road race, especially oval, since you have the expertise on the track, I know you trust your crew, but do you ever go in the garage and say, this is how the car is handling and on this particular course, not to throw your weight around, but do you say, maybe you want to do this or do that?
MARCOS AMBROSE: Yeah, pretty much, we have done quite a bit of preparation testing for Sonoma and Watkins Glen coming up in August, and I think that we have a really good base. When we get there, especially on qualifying day, we don't have a lot of time to get the car dialed in, so I will really be very aggressive on what I'm looking for, because I know exactly what I need to feel to run well there.
And I'm driving the car and without the use of data acquisitions systems on the car; it really is difficult for the crew chiefs to make them any better. So I know what I want. I know what I need. I've got enough experience now to know whether I want a rear roll bar or spring change or whether the front end is the missing link.
There's a lot that I can contribute. I look forward to it. But at the same time I'm not going to walk around with a steel hammer and bop anyone on the head that doesn't agree with me. It's going to be a consensus as a team and we are going to make choices as a team, but I'm obviously going to be a fairly strong leader during the process.
Q. Your Richmond Tigers, close to midway through the season, do you think they are going to get over the line this time?
MARCOS AMBROSE: I love Aussie Rules Football, but it seems a long way away from NASCAR and Sonoma this weekend. So I appreciate it. The reason I used to root for the Richmond Tigers was when I was ten years old I was given a tear of Richmond Tigers' socks, yellow and black. So not much to the story apart from I was given a free pair of socks, but a great game but it doesn't come close to NASCAR and Sonoma this weekend. But good luck to them and I hope they make the final leg.
Q. Tony Stewart in the F1 car -- inaudible -- can you explain to fans what the biggest challenge a road cars has?
MARCOS AMBROSE: First, I've never had the chance to drive an F1 car, and here is Tony Stewart, a long way away from F1 today, and gets a chance to drive Lewis Hamilton's car, one of the best of all time, must have been a big thrill for him. I talked to him about it and he really loved the experience. He couldn't believe the performance of the car.
I think Lewis Hamilton was on the other end of the scale, couldn't believe the size of NASCAR and the power of the engine and all of the effort that goes into making a stock car get around the track on Watkins Glen. A big thrill, and a little jealous, he's a good friend of mine, so I'm not going to say anything bad about him. Just great to let him sample it. F1 to NASCAR being viewed as a similar level of sport, I think it's just great for NASCAR and the international presence.
To drive a big, heavy stock car around a road course is one of the hardest things you could ever do as a race car driver. I've driven sports cars, fast, high-powered, open-wheel cars, I've driven them, around the world on all types of racetracks, but getting a stock car around Sonoma for the total length of the race watt tires going away and the brakes going away and the drivers swarming over you like a bunch of bees on the rear bumper trying to get past you; it's really challenging and it's a tough thing to do and that's why you see a lot of guys that come from road race backgrounds do okay when they turn up on Watkins again and Sonoma. Donnie Sexton (ph) last year, a good example, champion (ph), I love those cars and he's one of best drivers in Europe and he came here and he had a tough time with it.
A lot of us -- I'm fortunate because I come from heavy cars that handle a little similar to a stock car, so I had a competitive advantage before I came here. But the biggest challenge you can get in racing is a stock car around a road cars. Everything is very physical. The cars are heavy, and the competition is fierce.
Q. Road courses, you've been on them in so many countries, what are some of the strangest things seen on a road course, maybe some of the funnier things that have happened on a road course, either to you or anybody else?
MARCOS AMBROSE: Well, I can't believe the amount of contact in a NASCAR race on lap one. You know you've got a lot to sort it out, fuel mileage and race -- yet we turn into turn one every year and there's someone off in the boon ease, and just a classic to see it. We are all anxious to get going, we know how important track position is, and time and time again, I think guys get turned around. Crazy stuff in the first couple of laps.
But you know what just when you think you've seen the most of what NASCAR can throw you, something else pops up. I'm pretty sure my car parked on the side of the hill last year trying to get restarted is one of those moments. Unfortunately I was the one in that car but it was a fairly surreal moment.
Q. How long will it take to you get over that or will it be something you'll probably never get over it?
MARCOS AMBROSE: Oh, I'm over it. I just wish you guys would stop talking about it. As soon as I left that racetrack, I knew I wasn't going to get that race back.
You hate to lose races to a team like that, especially that I wasn't able to get to victory lane at the Cup level, disappointment. But tell you what, I'm still proud of my effort last year, definitely led a lot of laps, pace setter. I'm proud of what I did but a shame we couldn't fin tissue it off. I haven't lost sleep on it.
I'm looking forward to object think this chance, I have a great sponsor that are desperate to get up to victory lane and they have all the resources and effort behind it this weekend. Richard Petty has been kind enough to give me the chance to drive for his team, and it's going to mean the world for me to get him to victory lane again. Just really excited, really excited for the future and this weekend's race.
Q. Kasey Kahne got into victory lane there on a road course, so good luck.
MARCOS AMBROSE: Yeah, setup is great, too, so that helps.
Q. When I started covering NASCAR at Sonoma, they could not handle the road courses, and, in fact, one of the cars flipped and ended up upside down on top of the tires but now the drivers have had a lot of experience and they have taken road course training and they have had help; who do you think is going to be the most competitive besides yourself in the race this Sunday?
MARCOS AMBROSE: Well, I'm used to pitching how to get around a road course. I'm just really excited that NASCAR has come a long way in road racing. You know, drivers put a lot into these races that we go to. We run a 26-race schedule but had this format came along, guys realized that two out of the 26 races are road races, so the teams put a lot of effort and energy into these road races.
It means the same to win at Sonoma as it does at Talladega or Daytona. Looks the same on the score card. Teams realize it's a great opportunity if you have the ingredients right for a road cars to sneak a win in, and we are one of those teams that think we can.
Anyone that thinks that NASCAR road racing is amateur is very mistaken. The level of expertise has really gotten high, and yeah, there's one of 20 guys who can win the race on Sunday.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you so much for your time today.