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HomeNewsThe apology that cost Marcos Ambrose $10,000

The apology that cost Marcos Ambrose $10,000

SUPERCARS’ imminent trip to Wanneroo Raceway for the Bosch Power Tools Perth SuperSprint reminded us of one of the most contentious moments of Marcos Ambrose’s time in the championship.

A tangle with Mark Skaife on the run to Turn 1 on the opening lap at what was then known in 2005 as Barbagallo Raceway prompted an extraordinary outburst from Ambrose targeted at Supercars officials – both on television and in the post-round press conference – that led to an even more extraordinary apology.

It didn’t spare Ambrose from copping a $10,000 fine, but it could have been much worse…

While the focal point was the contact and Ambrose’s pointed comments afterwards, the roots of the saga could be traced to the round prior.

THE PRELUDE
In 2005, Ambrose was gunning for a third consecutive V8 Supercars Championship title in his swansong from the category, having announced on the eve of the season that he was leaving to pursue a career in NASCAR.

Ambrose began the season with a comprehensive sweep at the Clipsal 500 Adelaide, but had a Lap 1, Race 1 tangle at Pukekohe with polesitter Craig Lowndes, which spun the latter to the back of the field while the former raced away into the lead.

“There was plenty of room for him, but he had to be there …” Lowndes lamented to Motorsport News, which noted that Ambrose went to the Triple Eight garage after the race to apologise.

It was the first of two tangles involving the Pirtek Falcon driver in the same race: he and Steve Richards came together at the hairpin, spinning Ambrose out of the lead and costing the Perkins Motorsport driver several laps in repairs.

“He locked the rears going in and so I filled the gap on the inside,” Richards told MNews.

“He just won’t accept the consequences, once he’s made a mistake…”

In response, Ambrose only had this to say: “I guess they both wanted to win the race.”

Both incidents were looked at by Peter Wollerman and Colin Bond, the sport’s Investigating and Prosecuting Officer and Driving Standards Observer respectively, who elected to take no further action.

Ambrose recovered to fifth in the race and took second for the round before jetting off to the United States to spend a couple of days behind the wheel of one of Barry Graham’s race school NASCARs to help acclimatise to oval track racing.

He returned to Australia in time for the Barbagallo V8 Supercars round.

An off on loose gravel for Ambrose led Skaife to win Race 1 at Wanneroo, giving him pole position for Race 2. Pic: an1images.com / Graeme Neander

THE INCIDENT
A late-race mishap cost Ambrose a potential win in Saturday afternoon’s opening race in the west; he led 30 laps after passing polesitter Lowndes on the opening lap, only to have a half-lose on gravel with 12 laps remaining that allowed Mark Skaife through to the win.

The result set up a Skaife-Ambrose front row for the second race on Sunday morning.

Here’s how MNews described what unfolded in its race report:

IT took less than 10 seconds for the second race to be turned entirely on its head.

Skaife and Ambrose were side-by-side on the front row, Marcos got a better start, and the two men who have most recently won titles in this series went into turn one as a pair.

Brilliant stuff – except that neither of them made it out of the corner. Ambrose, on the outside, kept the foot planted and turned in; Skaife on the inside and on the conventional line, pretty much had nowhere to go. Blue paint swapped with red, and the cars went into the gravel.

Skaife, with a broken steering arm, stayed there. Ambrose was more fortunate, and managed to tip-toe back out onto the track and into the pits. Aided by the Safety Car, which had come out while the HRT car was mopped up, he managed to get back out on the lead lap – which would prove to be a crucial move later on.

Afterwards, Skaife was incensed.

“The day he thinks I am going to quit driving into the first corner and he can drive across and force me off the road, he is kidding himself,” he seethed.

The #2 HRT Commodore awaiting extraction from the Turn 1 gravel. Pic: an1images.com / Graeme Neander

THE FIRST PENALTY AND THE CHARGE
Upon its arrival in the pits, the SBR crew removed copious amounts of sand from the front end of the #1 Falcon, ripped off the broken driver’s side mirror and sent Ambrose on his way to rejoin the tail of the field for the restart on Lap 7.

However, as he came out of Kolb Corner on the first lap under green, race engineer Paul Forgie delivered some bad news: a black flag with the #1 was waiting for him at the start/finish line.

“OK Marcos, we’ve got a black flag. I want you to come through the pits, get the drivethrough out of the way now,” Forgie said, adding that it must’ve been for bringing sand onto the track.

Ambrose shook his head as he cruised down pit lane; Forgie tried to keep his driver calm while reminding him to “watch the language” on the radio.

“Fuck the radio shit mate, that is crap,” Ambrose replied.

The slow trundle down pit lane cost him some 22 seconds to the leaders but, suitably fired up, Ambrose quickly set about catching the pack.

The Pirtek Ford was the fastest car on the track and lapping, at times, almost a full second a lap faster than the leaders.

Ambrose was one of the last drivers to make their compulsory pit stop and remained a lowly 21st once all cars completed them.

A pair of late Safety Cars played into his hands, allowing Ambrose to use his fresh tyres to leap from 21st to 10th in the space of just 10 laps.

He then picked off another five cars over the remaining distance to take the chequered flag in fifth place, barely six seconds behind race winner Steven Richards.

Ambrose departs pit lane after serving his drivethrough penalty. Pic: an1images.com / Ross Gibb

THE SECOND PENALTY AND THE SPRAYS
Channel Ten’s pit reporter Daryl Beattie grabbed Ambrose for a chat after the race, during which he made his frustration clear.

“I don’t know, with decisions like that on the race track – I get a stop-go penalty for getting knocked off at the first corner – I’m almost pleased I’m leaving the series because we’re not going to lose this championship, we’re going to get it taken away from us,” Ambrose seethed.

On the incident itself, Ambrose was circumspect: “Mate, I’m just taking some deep breaths and collecting my thoughts, really. I don’t want to comment on anything out there too much because I’ll probably get a fine and be in more trouble than I already am.”

Unbeknown to Ambrose, he already was in more trouble.

After the race, IPO Wollerman reviewed the initial assessment of the Ambrose-Skaife incident and upgraded the charge from careless to reckless driving.

“Following a further investigation by the IPO, the Stewards found that car #1, Marcos Ambrose, was in breach of the rules, reckless driving (B6.7.3), regarding the incident with car #2, Mark Skaife during Race 2,” the stewards statement read.

“In addition to the drive-through penalty applied during Race 2, the Stewards imposed a penalty of a deduction of 25 Drivers Championship points. The competitor accepted the penalty.”

Ambrose went on to finish third place in the final race of the weekend to secure third overall for the round, and a trip to the official post-event press conference.

While it was Ambrose’s post-Race 2 comments that are best remembered, it was his comments here that properly landed him in hot water.

“I’m so angry that I do not want to talk too much about it,” Ambrose told the assembled media when asked about the Race 2 incident.

“We got off the line well; Skaifey has had a little bit of a habit of getting off the line a bit tardily and today was no exception.

“We forced the issue going into Turn 1, he forced the issue with the left-rear tyres there under brakes and damaged his car, and off we went.

“That’s racing, it’s a hard blow. No malice to Mark at all.

“Then I copped a stop-go penalty, which I thought was pretty harsh but I accepted that and moved on and finished fifth.

“But I think I might have done too well in the race and a pit lane drivethrough was not enough, and they docked me 25 points.

“From what I understand (the stewards) were still angry about the Pukekohe incident and thought this was a chance for a square-up.

“I don’t agree with the decision, but for the sake of the championship, we’ve just got to move on.”

Ambrose speaking to Greg Rust at the podium ceremonies. He recovered to finish third overall for the round behind winner Steven Richards and teammate Russell Ingall. Pic: an1images.com / Justin Deeley

THE INVESTIGATION
On the Tuesday after the round, CAMS released the following statement to the press:

The Investigating and Prosecuting Officer will review comments made by Marcos Ambrose in the post-race press conference on Sunday afternoon at round three of the V8 Supercar Championship Series at Barbagallo.

The IPO will investigate the comments to determine if they are in breach of the ‘conduct prejudicial’ rule (B6.5.4).

Rule B6.5.4 reads:

Conduct Prejudicial

A person must not do any act, make any omission or engage in any conduct – which includes words – which is or may be reasonably

(a) seen as being prejudicial to the interests of any Meeting, or

(b) likely to bring the sport of motor racing into disrepute.

THE $10,000 PENALTY
After input from both his team and his sponsors, Ambrose met with Wollerman for several hours on the Thursday after the Barbagallo round.

The result of Wollerman’s investigation came down the next day: Ambrose received a $15,000 fine – $5,000 of which was suspended until the end of 2005 in case of another breach – following an admission that his comments breached the Conduct Prejudicial rule.

Despite the size of the fine, it could have been bigger.

MNews reported that consideration had been given “for the genuine remorse which (Ambrose) has demonstrated during the course of the investigation.”

THE APOLOGY
Later that day, Ambrose issued a lengthy statement publicly apologising for his comments and appeared on Network Ten’s RPM program two days later to issue the apology in person.

Speaking from prepared notes, he delivered what MNews called “the most contrite ‘unreserved’ apology delivered by a modern-day sportsman for some time.”

Read Ambrose’s full apology statement below:

The V8 Supercar Championship is the most competitive touring car championship in the world. All of the cars are very close in performance and there is tremendous depth in driver talent. The pressure of competition is immense and it is this pressure which brings out the best and sometimes the worst in drivers.

Last week at Barbagallo I was involved in an incident with Mark Skaife at the first corner in Race 2. Subsequently I was penalised for Reckless Driving.

Following the incident and the imposition of the penalty, I made various comments about what I thought about both the incident and the penalties. These comments were made largely in the ‘heat of battle’ and without myself and the team being able to sit down and analyse the incident and what flowed from it.

I have now had the opportunity to do that and as a result I would like to make the following points:

In relation to the incident itself: In hindsight, I should have stayed out wider and allowed both lead cars to make the turn. Peripheral vision is limited in the cars. I made a judgment call that I was clear and that call proved to be an error.

In relation to my subsequent behaviour and comments: I expressed anger at the incident and the penalty. My language at the time was inappropriate. This was wrong and I apologise for any offence caused.

If it was inferred that I called into question the fairness of the judicial system, I did not mean to do so and I apologise unreservedly. In consultation with the team, I chose not to use my opportunity to defend the charge of Reckless Driving by presenting a case before the Stewards and I accepted that a breach of the rules had occurred.

Following the race I stated that I did not plead guilty to the charge of reckless driving. For the record, I did formally admit the breach of the Reckless Driving rule and it was for that which I accepted the additional points penalty.

TEGA and AVESCO and CAMS have spent a lot of time in trying to create a better judicial system than we have had previously. What we now have is working much better than the previous system.

Despite the teams being briefed at the start of the year that pit lane penalties can and often will also involve further sanctions before the Stewards, I was unaware of this. My ignorance of the system is no excuse but it was as a result of this that I made inappropriate comments.

My comments that have been taken to mean the points penalty was imposed because no action was taken in New Zealand and also because I had driven too well in the race were in hindsight completely inappropriate and could only cause harm to our sport.

The judicial officials in the Championship – the IPO, Peter Wollerman, The Stewards under Chief Steward Steven Chopping and the Driving Standards Observer Colin Bond – have difficult but very important jobs to do. I recognise now that my comments were not at all helpful to any of them and that I should not have made such comments. I apologise unreservedly.

This Championship is one of the world’s great motor racing championships, Stone Brothers Racing is a great team and Ford Motor Company is just the best manufacturer that I could have supporting me. They both have given me opportunities in my career that a few years ago I could never have dreamed of achieving. That my comments last weekend gave the impression of dissatisfaction with V8 Supercar racing could not be further from the truth. If I have given this impression, I would like to absolutely correct this as the reality could not be any further from the truth.

I now recognise that my comments have caused some grief to the Championship, to Stone Brothers, and to my personal sponsors and to sponsors of the team. For this I am sorry.

Ambrose and Skaife tangled again at Eastern Creek. Pic: an1images.com / Scott Wensley

POSTSCRIPT: YOU WOULDN’T BELIEVE IT…
The Wanneroo skirmish and Ambrose’s subsequent apology was still all the talk when the championship reconvened at Sydney Motorsport Park at the end of May for the next round.

And, wouldn’t you believe it, Ambrose and Skaife collided once again.

The pair tangled coming through Turn 3 while battling over what was going to be the lead of the race, once the pit stop cycle completed.

Once again the Holden Racing Team Commodore came off second best, but this time Ambrose went on to win the race – and escape any sanction.

Wollerman and Bond had deliberated over the incident but decided that no breach of the rules had occurred.

“We talked about it, and the rules regarding overlapping cars,” Bond explained to MNews.

“Normally, we used to talk about the B-pillar being where the car behind had to give way. That applies into braking areas; in a braking area you have to be up to the middle of the car before the guy in front has to give way.

“In an acceleration situation, on a straight or out of a corner, if both cars have got an overlap, then one car really cannot cut in front of another until it is clear of the car in front.

“What has happened here is that Mark (Skaife) has come down, there has been a touch, spun. It was very much similar to the incident we had in Perth but the other way around. Ambrose came across and tried to get in front of Skaife at that first corner.

“That is what we base our rules on.”

It proved the last time Skaife and Ambrose made contact before the latter exited the championship, but it was far from the last time the two-time champion courted controversy in 2005.

Ambrose putting his balaclava on prior to a session during the Wanneroo weekend. Pic: an1images.com / Scott Wensley
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