A year ago, a crestfallen Marcos Ambrose sat at the end of his hauler fending off questions about his inability to seal the deal at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
The scrum following a fourth disappointment in Montreal ended with the dejected racer wondering aloud whether he ever wanted to see the 12-turn, 4.361 kilometre track on Île Notre-Dame again.
Few could blame Ambrose for his hate-hate relationship with the track named after one of Canada’s greatest athletes, Gilles Villeneuve. In the first four Napa Auto Parts 200s, he led 149 of a total 273 laps in the NASCAR Nationwide Series event only to leave Montreal empty-handed each time.
In 2007, it was a late run-in with Robbie Gordon that ruined his chances. In 2008, the skies opened up at the wrong time and the win went to Canadian Ron Fellows when a red flag stopped the action early. A year later, he dominated again, but made a mistake in the final corner on the last lap and handed the victory to Carl Edwards. In 2010, an alternator failure eventually led to his retirement.
In the end, Ambrose only committed to racing in Montreal a week before the green flag was slated to wave. It turned out to be the right decision.
And after taking the chequered flag at the Circuit Gilled Villeneuve despite starting at the back of the field in Saturday’s race, the No. 9 Stanley driver finally took home the win he felt Montreal owed him.
“I’ve been trying to win here for so long and I felt pretty hard done by, but this year the race went my way. I didn’t lead as many laps, but I definitely lead the most important one, the last one,” said Ambrose, whose Ford was put at the back of the 43-car field because he missed the morning driver briefing due to his Sprint Cup practice duties at the Michigan International Speedway.
And he finally got some good luck in Montreal after surviving hard contact with local favourite Jacques Villeneuve on a Lap 44 restart when he was running second. The 1997 Formula One world champion went wide going into Turn 1 and his car ended up on the infield grass with its trajectory taking it into the side of Ambrose’s car as he went around Turn 2.
It looked to be an accident that would cost Ambrose yet another win in Montreal, but amazingly no vital parts were hit on the No. 9 car, while the damage to Villeneuve’s No. 22 Penske machine meant his chances at a victory were sunk.
“Unlucky for him that it ruined his day — lucky for us, it didn’t ruin ours,” Ambrose said.
“No hard feelings there, it was just tough racing. We came back through the field, with 25 laps to go I think we were 28th, so there was a lot of work to be done. From there, I just put my head down, stayed calm and ticked off some good laps and made some aggressive passes to make up for the lost ground.”
Ambrose climbed back up the leaderboard and finally retook the lead with 10 of 74 laps to go. He crossed the line 1.112 seconds ahead of Canadian Alex Tagliani in the second Penske car. Villeneuve ended the day two laps behind Ambrose in 27th place.
Maybe Ambrose’s sponsor, Stanley, had something to do with his change of fortune. The tool maker may have appeased the racing gods in Montreal by pledging to donate $100,000 to the Canadian Tire Jump-Start Program, which helps kids participate in sports.
The 34-year-old Tasmanian is also lucky he races in NASCAR for another reason: Officials seized one of his rear springs after the race, which may have been illegal. But because NASCAR does not take away wins after the results are final, the worst that can happen if the part does not pass inspection would likely be a loss of owner points. The testing is slated for Tuesday.
Perfect weekend for Wickens
Maybe Tim Hortons should consider sponsoring Canadian Robert Wickens after he ended his summer holiday in style by enjoying a well-earned double-double.
The 22-year-old got back to business at the Silverstone Circuit in England following a seven-week layoff and took a stranglehold on the Formula Renault 3.5 championship with a stellar performance. In addition, he became the first driver to take both poles and wins on the same weekend since the series began in 2005. And he did it despite missing 10 minutes of Sunday morning’s qualifying session for Race 2 after getting stuck in heavy traffic for more than an hour on his way to the circuit.
“It feels fantastic to have a weekend like this,” said Wickens, who now has four victories in 2011.
“I set myself a personal goal of five wins this season so I’m getting close. It would be great to achieve that but I’m focused on the championship.”
The pair of flag-to-flag victories put the Guelph, Ont., driver 34 points ahead of his teammate Jean Eric Vergne with four races to go. Drivers get 25 points for a win. The Formula Renault Series runs two races per event.
“I now have a good lead, but I still need to win races,” he said. “I’m confident ahead of Paul Ricard HTTT, as everything went well for us on the circuit in collective testing over the winter.”
The next race weekend goes Sept. 16-18 at the Paul Ricard circuit in France, where Wickens put up the fastest time in a test session in March.