Saturday, February 28, 2015

Return of Ambrose set to spark V8's back to life

When a sport is continually dominated by a team or individual, one of two things happens to that sport, either the success is celebrated with champion status, or the sport becomes mundane and boring due to a lack of competition and excitement. You will either love or hate the success being achieved by those who continue to win. Year after year, season after season, match after match, if someone is continually winning, fans can begin to lose interest.

Teams like Manchester United, individuals like Lance Armstrong; both long-term winners. Both with brash airs of arrogance from their continual success that is underpinned by self-confidence, but reeks of a smug “I’m the best” attitude. In an individual sport when a winner has this attitude, it provides competitors with a fierce desire to chase them down. Making it that much more satisfying to bring down, put simply, a wanker. Sometimes though, it takes a similar approach to bring them down.

Nine years ago, Marcus Ambrose left the V8 supercars with this attitude. After winning two V8 Supercars titles, he was the one you either loved or loathed. Today he returns to the series that made him, after an eight-year stint in NASCAR. Forget about his lack of time in a supercar over that time, the most important thing Ambrose brings back to the Australian series is his will-to-win, or more importantly his hate-to-lose. He will have a burning desire to become number one again, and the man he has to bring down, Jamie Whincup, won’t like it one iota.

If anyone can take down Jamie Whincup, it's Marcus Ambrose. Finally, he's back.
Whincup has won six of the last seven series championships. He is the current ‘champion’ of the sport. But no one reeks of the smug attitude more than Whincup. To the fans, in front of the camera, he is humble and respectful, but the sleek front has an underbelly of genuine arrogance.

In a phase where the sport is struggling to retain its identity with the announcement that long-time manufacturer Ford will stop competing, Ambrose' return couldn’t come at a better time. You get the feeling the Ambrose and Whincup rivalry is going to build into a season full of fireworks. The one thing about the V8’s is they know how to use the media to create drama in the sport. The moments off the racetrack often mean as much as the moments on it. Thrown helmets after a crash, drivers bailing each other up in the pits, and the war of words before each race add for a spicy battle on the tarmac.

Throw in veteran Craig Lowndes and a handful of rookies breathing down current champ Whincup’s neck, it’s beginning to look like the perfect mix for a competitive season needed to see through the upcoming loss of Ford.

The thing about motorsport that can often dull its interest is one constant winner, who is usually the bloke driving the car which has the most money spent on it. Formula One, NASCAR, Indy; they all have this problem. In the last couple of years the V8’s have brought in Nissan and Volvo to add to the long and historic battle between manufacturers Ford and Holden. They’ve also made strict changes to the way the cars are built, with the ‘Car of the Future’ concept trying to reduce costs and allow for an even playing field.

Former NRL, and now Football Australia CEO, David Gallop, is a firm believer that evenness across a competition is vital for a sport to be successful. The reproduction of a new winner every year was the perfect scenario for Gallop. Allowing teams to be successful in cycles with the operation of a salary cap, to ensure each team has a genuine opportunity to win their competition every year. Much like a salary cap, the V8 administrators’ implemented their ‘Car of the Future’ idea to have a more even spread of winners.

For the first time ever, the V8 Supercars will have limited free-to-air coverage, with the sport opting to take a broadcast deal with pay TV giant Fox Sports. Bringing in the dollars is crucial for the big business of sport, but losing touch with your loyal group of fans is a massive risk. The V8’s have taken a punt and risk losing the support of their working and middle-class supporters without free-to-air coverage. They will be relying on the return of a former champion and their Car of the Future to provide juicy enough entertainment for fans to cough up the cash for pay TV.

All that starts today at the season opening Clipsal 500 in Adelaide, where for the first time the Ambrose comeback hits the racetrack. If history is anything to go by, we might just see the start of a rivalry not seen in years. Ambrose has won the Clipsal two times. Whincup has won it four.

Bring. It. On.