TRANSCRIPT - MARCOS AMBROSE MEDIA CONFERENCE
Below is a transcript of a media conference for Australian NASCAR driver Marcos Ambrose, held at Symmons Plains Raceway just outside Launceston, Tasmania last weekend.
Ambrose, a former two-time Australian V8 Supercar champion, is back in Australia after his third season of racing in NASCAR. Ambrose visited Round 13 of the 2008 V8 Supercar Championship Series at his home circuit on the weekend to see old friends and speak with Australian media.
Ambrose claimed his first NASCAR win this season at Watkins Glen and finished in the top 10 in the Nationwide Series for the second-consecutive season.
Ambrose made 11 Sprint Cup starts in 2008, with a best result of third on the Watkins Glen road course after started from the rear, with 18th place in Phoenix his best finish on an oval.
Next season Ambrose will run the full Sprint Cup schedule in the #47 Toyota Camry of JTG Daugherty Racing, who have entered into a technical alliance with Michael Waltrip Racing from next season, with primary race sponsorship shared among Little Debbie, Kingsford, Clorox and Bush's Beans.
QUESTION: It must have been a bit of a whirlwind over the past three years, but it's obviously nice to spend some time at home here in Tasmania?
MARCOS AMBROSE: Thanks for having me. It's been a whirlwind this year. I feel like I'm always fighting time and sleep. It's nice to get away from the NASCAR circuit for a while, come home and spend time with my family and friends. It's going to be great and I'm really going to use this time to reinvent myself.
I feel like I had my butt handed to me this year in the US, I finally got in some competitive equipment, got into that Cup racing game and realised that if I'm going to contend, I've really got to go to another level.
So I'm looking forward to this time off to really refocus my body and my mind for the 2009 season. It's really going to be my make or break year, 2009, to make it stick. I've got in some quality gear for the first time over there. I've paid my dues and I have enough experience. I've had over 100 starts now so there are no excuses left really, I've got to get it done.
I'm looking forward to that challenge. Everything is poised to be something special. All I've asked of myself and the people that have worked with me over there is to give me the opportunity to prove or disprove whether I've got it and whether I can do it.
The 11 races I've done at the Cup level have been an eye opener for me. I've realised that to last five hours out there is not an easy thing. The races are long, they're aggressive. The drivers are as good and competitive as I've seen anywhere and the depth of talent is amazing. There are 43 (drivers) that start every week and there are about 42 and a half of them that are really, really good. Sometimes I feel like I'm the point five (0.5) that's missing (laughs).
So, that's really where I'm at and I'm looking forward to the break. Looking forward to being home in Tasmania for a while and looking forward even more to getting back and really getting into it.
Q: You only finished the season last week. You must feel like you need a break, but does the racer inside you really want to get back out there?
MA: Yeah, I really need a break now, you know, it's been a long year. Someone said to me earlier that I've basically done three seasons of V8 Supercars in 10 months. And that's really what it feels like. I feel tired, I feel worn out, I feel like I've had enough for a while. The double race formats have been difficult for me, the travel between the tracks, because I'm racing against guys ... I call it the two-tenths rule. I'm two tenths of a second a lap away from flying my own jet and unfortunately I'm flying around commercial doing it the hard way.
So it's a fine line between doing it right and not doing it right and wasting money and time, so I'm really keen on doing it the way it needs to be done and competing at the very top level with those guys and hopefully this break can give me the chance to really refocus and have a good think about what I need to do to be successful and be better.
Q: In terms of next season you will be doing the full Sprint Cup program. Is it just the Cup for you or will there be some other racing?
MA: That's a good point. Right now we've got the full NASCAR Sprint Cup Series locked away. The only drawback is the owner's points situation. For those that don't understand the rules, the top 35 teams are guaranteed a start each week, the teams below that have to qualify into the race on speed. Quite often you have 50 -- 52 cars all trying to get a spot, but you're all trying for the spots from 36th through to 50th, or however many cars are there. So it's not uncommon to qualify around 25th, but go home because you are not in the front of that group, so it's really a burden on everybody.
We don't want to be in that position if we can avoid it. The team that I jumped in with for the last four races was 36th in owners points. We got them back into the top 35 then fell out in the last race to be back out of points. With the restructuring of some race teams and the economic crisis over there it looks like there are some guys in front of us that are going to drop back, so we should be locked in for the entire series.
If not, we have to qualify in on our speed for the first five races, including the Daytona 500, which is not easy. So we're going to do the whole series next year, to answer your question. We are doing the whole Sprint Cup series, we'll be doing every race but there may be some races where we could potentially miss out if we don't qualify in on speed.
In the Nationwide Series, I'm going to do the road course races for sure. There's plenty of demand for me out there to do those. And we'll probably fill in 15 to 20 races on the Nationwide side for the sponsors to make it work.
My team is trying to bring through the next generation of driver. They brought me through on a three-year plan, they're bringing the next young guy through and to make the sponsorship work I'm going to do some races for them. I wouldn't want to do more than 15 to 20, and that's probably what the number will be.
Q: It's still a huge commitment, whichever way you look at it.
MA: It's not as much as doing the full schedule, because you don't have the fly-in races. Quite often you will run both cars in different states, so between practice sessions you will be flying in on helicopter and flying from airport to airport to make it all work. And that's no good on the sponsors, on the drivers or anybody.
So we're not going to do that. We're going to focus on the Cup series but the Nationwide Series racing is fun if you do it the right way and it can help your Cup program too.
The number one focus for us is the Cup Series. That's where the money is, that's where the sponsors are and that's where the crowd is, so that's the number one goal.
Q: You raced in a lot of big races this year, including the Brickyard 400. That was quite a difficult race for everybody with the tyre situation. There was also the win and the third at Watkins Glen and the debut at Sonoma. You've also raced at Daytona, but to actually get the chance to race in the Daytona 500, one of the most famous races anywhere in the world, the opening race of 2009, which must be huge.
MA: Yeah, that Indianapolis track is pretty intimidating. I don't think I've been to many places where I felt very anxious to get going. Unfortunately in practice we blew a motor on the second lap, so I had two laps of practice before qualifying and I was very under-prepared for the start of that race.
Huge crowd, huge prizemoney, huge responsibility and a very, very daunting track. The speeds are high in NASCAR every week, but when you tip off into Turn One there at Indianapolis it really feels fast.
It was an exciting weekend for me and it was a weekend where I really feel I broke out of the mould and felt like I had the goods to do it at the Cup level, because we qualified in on our speed and had a good day. So, there are fond memories of that place, but every race track is big and fast.
Every race is big, with big prizemoney, so there's not one week that really stands out to me that's say, any more special than the others or any more demanding. It's really just a constant grind of performance requirements. I mean, you need to deliver every single weekend.
Q: Next year, to go to Daytona for the big one on the Sunday. What's that going to be like?
MA: I'm already pretty nervous about Daytona. You know, it's a really tough race track. They run a restrictor plate there, so the cars are always really close. You've got to run those cars really loose, where the rear end moves around a lot. NASCARs inherently handle badly. They don't turn well and they don't handle the speeds well, so you've got to set them up so they're always sliding so you don't overload the tyres. Daytona is probably the meanest and 'baddest' of all the race tracks as far as having to run the car loose with guys all around you in the pack.
I'm anxious about it. I'm really keen to be locked into that race, if the stars align and luck's on our side I won't have to qualify in on speed. Because we have to race our way in on that race track. They have what they call the Gatorade Duels where you have to race your way in through a heat race, the week before the big one, to get in. And I'm not looking forward to doing that.
But it's what I do. I've got to handle the pressure of racing over there. It is difficult to keep calm under that much pressure but it's what I do. So I'm looking forward to every race, but I'm a little anxious about the first one.
Q: Can you describe the team situation for next year, with JTG Daugherty Racing taking on a different form?
MA: Yeah, I've driven for four teams all up this year, across the two series. So I've got a lot of seats out there and a lot of steering wheels that I've been driving and using. And that's been difficult to adapt.
The team that has driven everything has been JTG Daugherty Racing. They have a marketing company that draws in the money to make it work and they on-sell that to race teams with a driver attached, which is me, by twisting their arm enough to make me the driver.
It all revolves around that one group and it's a family called Tad and Jodi Geschickter, a husband and wife team, and their marketing crew that are really the brainchilds of all of that.
Originally they merged with Wood Brothers, then they separated, it didn't work out, and they had a sponsorship that crossed over with Wood Brothers so I drove the #21 a few times this year and then they (JTG) had the money together to go Cup racing. It's a lot of money to run a Cup program. It costs about $15 to $20 million to run a car -- and that's US dollars.
With the exchange rate now, it's good for me when I come home, but not good for you guys coming over to the States to see a NASCAR race.
Basically, we didn't have the money to 'gear up' to run a Cup program. We had the money to run but we didn't really have the money to put everything together, to buy cars, transporters, people, infrastructure, testing time and all of that. So the smartest thing to do was to package that up and then try and deliver that to another team that was already running and that's how the Michael Waltrip Racing link worked for us.
It's a great fit. They are a team that is really on the up. They've got a fleet of Toyotas and they are spending good money and they have done already. They've got over 30 full-time engineers on an engineering program that is first class. They've got good facilities and basically we are going to plug ourselves in there with myself and the sponsorship and a few key guys and hopefully make it work.
I feel like that's what I needed to do to put myself in quality machinery, to give myself a chance and for the team to give themselves a chance to really deliver on what they have promised their sponsors. I think it's going to work out well, but time will tell how well it does work. I might be home next year driving with you guys again or I could be there for another 10 years. It just depends what happens (laughs).
Continued in part 2