Monday, April 03, 2006

Ambrose update

There's not many of us here in the US, but I'm a very big fan of the Australian V8 Supercar series. It's got great close racing, lairy-handling cars, huge variety of tracks, lots of manufacturer support, big grids and personalities galore to love or hate.

V8 Supercar champion from 2003 and 2004, Marcos Ambrose, was rewarded for his efforts by Ford with a season in this year's NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, one of the 2 main feeders for the Nextel Cup. Ambrose has always been a big fan of NASCAR and now gets to "live the dream". He'll be driving this year for the Wood Brothers Team in the #20 truck.

Due to NASCAR licensing regulations, he had to sit out the first 3 races of the season, which were all on superspeedways. Apparently you have to prove to NASCAR that you can cut it on short-tracks and regular ovals before they'll let you out on the big tracks. So Marcos' first race was this weekend at the paperclip-shaped short track at Martinsville, VA. This track is known for it's bumping and banging action, as cars get caught in traffic jams, and accidents rarely involve just one vehicle.

Ambrose started the weekend by finishing first practice in 12th out of 36 trucks. Very impressive! He then went on to a 2nd best time in the rookies practice that would have earned him 3rd in the first practice! Now it was getting exciting. In qualifying on Saturday morning he could only scoop up 18th best, but still good enough to get into the field (he was one of 8 drivers not guaranteed a starting position due to something called "owners points").

This was the first Craftsman truck race I ever watched and I learned a few things:

1. When there's not a caution, the action is hard to find. Passes are rare and hard to see, with such big fields.

2. Accidents are frequent at short tracks, and when they happen they ALWAYS cause a full-course yellow, even if the car gets turned back around and rejoins the field.

3. These trucks are very fragile. They deform easily, and nearly always lose a radiator if there's any damage in front of the firewall.

4. Pit stop strategy is all over the place, and it's impossible to predict anything. This makes for a somewhat exciting race, albeit one defined by cautions and pit stops as opposed to on track action.

So how did Marcos do? He was running a solid 20th for a while, stayed out for a number of cautions to get up to 12th, then pitted and ended back in 29th before being involved in someone else's accident and spending 52 laps behind the wall. He was eventually classified 33rd. His on-track performance however gave everyone reason to smile, and his team are very pleased.

I found that the fansite at was the best place to keep track of Marcos' efforts.

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