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Monday Motor Sport Report

By Peter McKay, 01 Dec 2014 Motorsport

Monday Motor Sport Report

Ambrose ready for V8 return; Hulkenberg to moonlight at Le Mans; Bathurst stoush goes global; David Wall joins Volvo; Freightliner backs BJR

V8 SUPERCARS: Marcos set for Homebush

WITH the 2014 V8 Supercars title already resolved and the crown plonked on the head of Jamie Whincup, prime interest in the final round of the year at Homebush next weekend centres on the return of Marcos Ambrose.

It is one of the most asked questions in motor sport: How will two-time champion Ambrose fare after nine years away in NASCAR?

The man himself talked down expectations, before, during and after giving his Xbox DJR Falcon two days of testing at Queensland Raceway in preparation for the Sydney NRMA 500.

Ambrose has been at the DJR team headquarters at Staplyton, getting to know his new engineers and mechanic, and says his focus is on next year and the opening race, the Clipsal 500.

Chatting after the completion of the test, Ambrose said: “Really, the hardest part to get comfortable with is [to] get the brake zone deep enough. I’m learning the new shifter as well, the sequential box – something new for me.

“The car feels pretty comfortable to hustle around the track here. It’s been hot every day we’ve been out in the car, so the grip level’s not there – but the speed will come when we get good track condition.”

Getting specific about the Homebush weekend, Ambrose admitted it’ll be a jump in the deep end. He’s never raced at the street circuit, not that this should trouble someone of his vast experience.

“[I’ll] just try to survive Sydney, but I’m learning all of that stuff that I won’t need to when I get to Clipsal. So it’s certainly fast-tracking our 2015 campaign.”

SPORTSCARS: The Hulk for Le Mans

NICO Hulkenberg will race for Porsche in endurance races at Spa and Le Mans next year.

The German ace will become the first active F1 driver in five years to race in the world’s best-known sports car classic.

The 27-year-old has been granted permission by his Force India F1 team to moonlight in the six-hour race at Spa on May 2 and the 24-hour race at Le Mans on June 13-14.

“Porsche and Le Mans – this combination probably attracts every race driver,” said Hulkenberg.

“I’ve been a Porsche fan for a long time and have been watching their return to the LMP1 class closely. The desire grew to drive that car at Le Mans.

“I am very pleased the 2015 F1 calendar allows for it and I’m grateful to my Sahara Force India team’s generosity to let me go for it. Now it’s up to me to work hard to satisfy both commitments.”

Hulkenberg’s signing for Porsche has done little to quell speculation that former world champion Jenson Button will also be part of the 2015 squad.

V8 SUPERCARS: Bathurst 12-Hour clash goes global

IT SMACKS of pettiness, and it may bite the perpetrators on the bum(s).

The insistence of V8 Supercars and its telecaster Fox/Ten that its official and mandatory pre-season test be staged on the same weekend as the annual 2015 Bathurst 12 Hour sports car race has whipped up a fury that has now gone global…

Until recently, it was only the local media and fans infuriated with the seemingly malicious determination of officialdom to prevent V8 Supercars stars Craig Lowndes, Rick Kelly and others driving in the 12 Hour.

But the rank stupidity of the gaffe has not gone unnoticed by people outside Australia.

Getting all heated last week was US website Beyond The Flag, on which writer Adam Johnson roundly blasted the perpetrators of the ban, asking several pertinent questions including why the hell would you NOT want your top drivers to showcase your series in other races?

Johnson pointed out that in the 1960s and 1970s, race drivers were jack-of-all-trades. On any given Sunday you could see grand prix drivers running NASCAR, British touring cars, Trans-Am, sports car racing, even motorcycle racing if you were Mike Hailwood. And fans loved this inter-breeding between series.

Certainly local V8 fanatics last year relished the sight of Lowndes, Shane van Gisbergen, Rick Kelly, Will Davison and others racing the exotic GT3 weapons wheel-to-wheel with international aces such as Mika Salo.

They were looking forward to a re-run of this exciting scenario in February.

Warming to the task, Johnson used V8 Supercars’ own rules from a past race weekend to hammer James Warburton’s troops even harder.

“Let’s not forget, less than two years ago the Gold Coast 600 V8 Supercars event had a rule in place which made it mandatory to have a co-driver from an international motorsport series, which saw the finest from Indycar, WTCC, ALMS and more all came to play on the sunny beaches,” he wrote.

If not long ago they wanted the world to come play in their garden, why are V8 Supercars now banning their own drivers from playing with their neighbours? Johnson asks.

There is much sensitivity about the new V8 Supercars TV package, which has led to the ban of drivers double-dating on that weekend in February.

For the first time, in 2015 the V8 races shown live on a free channel will be limited to six marquee events, the rest bundled into a highlights package shown in the late afternoon.

Fox is making a big deal about its coverage, which includes all practice sessions, qualifying and races – live – but the new TV deal has embittered hundreds of thousands of fans accustomed to watching their racing live on free-to-air channels. They are unhappy about the idea of paying for what they have been getting for nothing.

Some observers also believe V8 Supercars is simply very worried about the potential of the Bathurst 12 Hour, much of which will be telecast live (and free) on the Seven Network.

V8 Supercars Australia has been defending the indefensible while CAMS, which should have done something to prevent the clash, is doing SFA.

Fans and the drivers are the losers in this bitchiness.

Nissan’s global motor sport boss, Darren Cox, who was hoping to employ Rick Kelly to again race a GT-R in the 12 Hour, recently hit out at V8 Supercars in an interview with Radio Le Mans.

“It’s another case of the politics getting in the way of sport,” Cox said. “I think there’s only one loser and that will be the sport, unfortunately.

“If V8s think they’re the only game in town, then things are changing down there and I think the Bathurst 12 Hour will only grow and grow.

“I think V8s taking them on is the wrong thing to do. I think there’s room enough for both championships. This one will rumble on, I think.”

Mark Webber and Eric Bana have also joined the rising chorus of critics while writer Johnson suggests V8 Supercars is moving perilously close to scoring perhaps the biggest PR own-goal in history.

Fuming motor sport enthusiasts – and this includes an army of V8 Supercars supporters – are adamant their support on that February weekend will be with the Bathurst 12 Hour, which has a growing entry by the day and is becoming increasingly irresistible to genuine fans of motor sport.

V8 SUPERCARS: Wall for Volvo

VOLVO has confirmed David Wall as the second driver for the factory Polestar/Garry Rogers Motorsport squad for 2015.

When Wilson Security moved its sponsorship recently from Dick Johnson Racing to Volvo/GRM, it was logical that Wall, who has enjoyed ongoing support from that company, would follow.

Wall replaces Robert Dahlgren, who will return to Sweden after next weekend’s racing at Homebush.

In further developments, 26-year-old Queenslander Ash Walsh will drive in the main game for Erebus AMG next year, replacing Lee Holdsworth, who has signed on with Ford’s Charlie Schwerkolt Racing.

V8 SUPERCARS: You truckin’ beauty!

DEFYING a tough economic landscape that has seen a number of prominent sponsors abandon V8 Supercars – including Norton, Lockwood, Jen-Weld and yet-to-be-confirmed Ford – Brad Jones Racing has reversed the trend and snaffled a multi-year naming rights deal with Freightliner, a Daimler brand.

BJR, respected for fighting above its weight throughout a 25-year stint in many theatres of motor racing, will swap the Lockwood for Freightliner on Fabian Coulthard’s Commodore from the start of next season.

The expanded deal came on the back of a 2014 season that saw Freightliner supply BJR with prime movers.

The Freightliner Racing naming rights sponsorship will run for a minimum of three years.

“There are strong parallels between the V8 Supercar audience and Freightliner trucks,” said Daniel Whitehead, managing director of Daimler Truck & Bus in Australia.

“Freightliner trucks are as traditional as the much loved Aussie V8 sedan; big and powerful that cover huge distances with ease.”