Principals discuss NASCAR driver Marcos Ambrose's move back to Australia.
Marcos Ambrose has always been clear about one thing – he thoroughly enjoyed his time racing in the U.S., but he has always said that his home is Australia, and that he intended to return while he was still young enough to race.
Earlier this week, his plan came together as he announced his resignation from Richard Petty Motorsports and the NASCAR Sprint Cup series, to return home to compete once again in the Australian V8 Supercars Championship.
The opportunity came when Team Penske formed a partnership with Dick Johnson Racing to begin competing in the Australian V8 Supercars Championship starting in 2015. DJR Team Penske will field Ford Falcons in the series starting next season, and Ambrose will return home the iconic No. 17 Ford after competing in NASCAR over the last nine seasons.
Late Monday, the principals -- Roger Penske, Dick Johnson, Marcos Ambrose and Tim Cindric, president of Penske Racing – held a conference call. Here’s an edited version of the more than 9,000-word conversation.
Q: Why does it make sense for the organization to team up with Dick Johnson Racing for this program and move forward with Marcos to begin competing in the V8 Supercars Championship starting in 2015?
ROGER PENSKE: When I stepped back away from this opportunity, I really look at our business that we've now been developing in Australia. We had the opportunity to race in the Gold Coast for a number of years with IndyCars. I had the opportunity to watch the V8 Supercars Series. I know a number of the drivers, and obviously have followed the series for a number of years.
When I looked at our business – and racing has been a common thread through our businesses for many years – and I saw that the V8 Supercars would connect with our customer base throughout Australia and there was no question that with our interests in racing as we know our NASCAR heritage here, IndyCar, a chance to go to Australia and take some of our people an opportunity there would be something that we wouldn't want to turn down.
Obviously when we look at the landscape coming down there by ourselves and trying to develop a team, we really said that wasn't an option, and so we took the last four to five months really to look and see what we might be able to do, partner or do something with another organization, and I found out very quickly that Dick Johnson Racing had such a great reputation. I had the opportunity to go to the shop, meet Dick and meet the key people there, and it was obvious that we could have a good fit. We need a partner. We've partnered in many businesses here in the United States and internationally, and the chance to partner with someone who had assets, who had the RECs and had the ability for us to be able to join together and go in 2015 was the first step.
Obviously with all the drivers in most cases under contracts, that made it difficult for us to make a decision on just where we might go from a driver standpoint, and having known Marcos and from time to time talked to him about Australia, he said to us – “At some time I'm thinking about going back to Australia with my family. If you ever want to run down there, let me know.” So I took the opportunity to call him up on the phone and Tim met with him, and he said, look, there's an opportunity, I'd like to be part of it.
This has taken time over the last several months to get to this point, and quite honestly we didn't really want to go forward until we finished the IndyCar season and looked at the next nine races in NASCAR. It's a business reason, we love racing, we love Australia, and I think the combination of Johnson and certainly Marcos Ambrose to set the stage and the foundation for us will be a real opportunity.
Q: Dick Johnson, your teams have experienced great success with seven Australian Touring Car and V8 Supercar championships. This new partnership with Team Penske really represents a new era for Dick Johnson Racing. Can you talk about how this relationship developed over the last several months and the opportunity to work with Team Penske and Marcos Ambrose?
DICK JOHNSON: Well, actually the first contact was made near on 12 months ago when Tim came out to Australia and certainly had a look around at the Homebush facility, et cetera, and we've been in conversation ever since, working out the finer details, but it was never, ever going to realistically come to play until such time as 2015, at the beginning of a new season.
To have Marcos as part of our team, I've known Marcos for quite some time, he was one of the few guys to win back‑to‑back championships for Ford, and to have ‑‑ as I said, to have Marcos as part of our team is a real bonus. And certainly with Roger and the Penske organization, what they can bring to our team will be second to none, I can assure you. It's one of those situations that anyone who ever had this sort of opportunity would never, ever give it up because obviously Roger is iconic not only in the U.S. but certainly throughout the world with his racing exploits and certainly his business exploits.
He has made it very clear on a number of occasions like he has done with his other teams that he does this to leverage his business in every way in every country that he's been in, and I think it's just a great way of doing things. We've had a lot of partners along the way that have done exactly the same.
And for Marcos to come home, I know a lot of speculation is that Marcos was really, really good in the early '90s ‑‑ late '90s into the 2000s, but coming into the V8 Supercars, which has changed an awful lot over the past nine or 10 years, I don't think he'll have any trouble at all finding his feet within these cars, even though they're different cars. They're not all that different, and Marcos, as you know, has a tremendous record on road courses in the NASCARs and things. I'm sure that he'll fit very well with the system.
Mind you, it's not something, if anyone thinks you're going to come straight out of the box and win races from day one, I think that would be a pie in the sky sort of attitude, but quite frankly, next year, I think from what Roger says, is going to be a learning year for all of us and we'll have a real good crack in 2016. But boy, the opportunities here are endless with the technical expertise that we can get from Penske and certainly to sort of integrate with the team we currently have here and the facility we have I think will be nothing short of spectacular.
Q: Now for Marcos, after a successful nine seasons competing in NASCAR, you'll get a chance to return home in 2015 and race in a series where you won 28 races and two series titles in five seasons. How great of an opportunity and challenge is this to come back to V8 Supercars and the legendary No. 17 Ford Falcon and race for two motorsports legends in Roger Penske and Dick Johnson?
MARCOS AMBROSE: Well, thank you for the question. It certainly is a great opportunity and it's going to be a great personal challenge for me. The point I want to get across, also, it's an honor to be able to bring to Australian racing, be part of bringing Team Penske to Australian racing. It's going to be great for Australian motorsport. To drive the No. 17 for Dick Johnson Racing is also an incredible opportunity for me and a privilege. I've watched Dick race as a kid. I've raced against his team, and now I get to drive with him, so the combination of DJR and Team Penske is an opportunity that is an incredible one for me personally. It was a no‑brainer for me to come with the conversations I've had with Roger to take this opportunity and really run with it. I can't wait to get home and get started.
It will be a challenge for me personally, there's no doubt about that. It's been nearly 10 years since I've driven a V8 Supercar. I don't take that challenge lightly. I know it's going to take some time to get integrated back into the series with the way they like to race, with the rules they have in place, and also the technical aspect of these cars, but I know what I've done in the past, and I know what I'm capable of, and it's not like I've been sitting around a beach. I've been racing 36 NASCAR Sprint Cup races every season. I've had plenty of racing miles under my belt. I'm looking forward to the change. I'm looking forward to bringing my family back to Australia, and just can't wait to get started.
Q: Tim, you made some trips to Australia to explore opportunities for the team in the V8 Supercars Championship. Can you talk a little bit about the competition in the series and the opportunities for Team Penske on the racing side and also how the organizational structure will work within DJR and Team Penske as it gears up for the 2015 season?
TIM CINDRIC: Sure, I guess at the start, my first exposure to V8 Supercars was really when we raced in Surfers Paradise with the IndyCars back in the CART Series in the early 90s. I think 1991 was the first year that I came across it, which was the first year of the Surfers event, and there was all this talk about V8 Supercars, and the IndyCars were a bit secondary to what was going on with V8 Supercars. I guess we understand at least from my perspective what was V8 Supercars, and obviously that was a long time ago, but when Roger mentioned to me that he was seriously considering some kind of involvement within the V8 Supercars Series in Australia, I didn't know to take him serious or not, but then he told me about fellow by the name of Dick Johnson that was actually going to come across to have a look at our workshop in North Carolina.
And I thought, okay, it's a typical, I guess, tour of our facility, but never did I really realize how serious Roger was about getting involved. As he asked me more questions, it was obvious that I needed to get on an airplane and go find out really what the landscape looked like, which was why I went across to Homebush, and as I was in Homebush, there was quite a bit of speculation about kind of why we were there and what our end objective was.
A couple of the media had actually mentioned to me would we consider Marcos as a driver, and that stirred up things a little bit, and Marcos a little bit later had asked, hey, I might be interested in something like that if this is something that you're seriously considering, and from then it just continued to grow. We felt like we were serious enough to try and understand a bit more about the DJR organization when I came across in June, and what I saw there and what I felt there was a very positive energy within that organization, and I spent the better part of a week there just getting to know the people and getting to understand the infrastructure.
I left there with a lot of confidence in June knowing that this group could get the job done, obviously with Marcos behind the wheel. As we looked at how do we connect that to Roger's businesses, we knew that we needed to have someone on the ground floor within Australia to do as we do here in the States, and as Roger said, the common thread throughout our businesses is the motorsport, and we needed someone there that knew the landscape to tie these things together, and I think most of you are familiar with a fellow by the name of John Crennan, and John Crennan most recently was managing director at Nissan Motorsport and was the co‑founder of HRT. He's going to come on board to help us leverage our association with the Penske commercial vehicles and our racing program.
Q. Roger, and I guess Dick is involved in this question a bit, too, the arrangement has been described in the release as a partnership. Can you talk us through how it's going to work and what the actual ownership split is going to be, please?
ROGER PENSKE: We'll have a majority ownership, but Dick will be involved on a day‑to‑day basis. He lives there. He's been part of the team and will integrate with the people that he has on the ground. I think Tim was able to give you some specific details on people that we would bring to the party, but we'll make ‑‑ we'll set up actually a separate entity which Dick and his investors will be part of, and then he'll contribute assets and we'll contribute capital into the business, and then we'll go to V‑8 Supercar for approval to transfer the RECs into that new organization.
Q. Marcos, when are you actually getting back to Australia and when do you expect to drive one of the cars for the first time?
MARCOS AMBROSE: I have nine races left in the Sprint Cup Series for Richard Petty Motorsports. I intend to honor that, and so shortly after the last race at Homestead I'll be planning to come back. We have some opportunities to get behind the wheel of a V8 Supercar which is really what I'm thinking about the most these days for some media rides and corporate rides and things like that, so I do expect to come back in November, and then the big move with the family and so forth will take place at the end of December.
Q. And where are you going to live?
MARCOS AMBROSE: I'm going to live in Tasmania, and I've kept my residence in South East Queensland that I've had when I was racing for Stone Brothers, so I'll be using both houses to do the job, but I'm going to move the family and base ourselves in Launceston, Tasmania.
Q. Marcos, what will you miss most about NASCAR, and perhaps your biggest moment over here in the eight or nine years you raced?
MARCOS AMBROSE: I've got some incredibly fond memories of racing in the U.S., and there is no feeling like running a Sprint Cup car on a high‑speed oval. It's something that not many professional drivers get a chance to taste, and I will miss that. I will miss the sensation, the speed and the intensity of the racing, the amount of racing. You know, that is why I came to America. I came to America because of the schedule, the amount of races, you know, of the toughness and the aggressiveness of the racing, and I'll miss that, there's no doubt about it. But at the same time, V8 Supercar is an incredible series, and I'm certainly going to get plenty of competition down there, as well. I will miss the high‑speed racing that is NASCAR and just the general intensity of it and the size.
Q. What was the moment you'll remember most from your eight or nine years here?
MARCOS AMBROSE: Yeah, certainly winning my first Sprint Cup race will go down as one of my highlights, but tonight to be honest with you ranks right up there, the opportunity to be sitting next to Roger Penske announcing a deal to return home. If I look at my racing in America, to think that I was actually able to come to this point in my career, it's an amazing thing. So I think tonight is a highlight.
Q. Is there any chance you would do a one‑off in NASCAR?
MARCOS AMBROSE: I haven't thought about that, but to be honest with you, I'm just really, really excited to announce this and to look forward to putting my full commitment behind the V8 Supercar program for DJR Team Penske.