The Supercars championship has escaped the winter and headed north for its annual trip to the Top End, where history was made at Hidden Valley with the first-ever winner of the Darwin Triple Crown trophy.
International endeavours or domestic success? That’s the dilemma for Australian athletes in global sports.
Aussie Marcos Ambrose chose the former by testing himself in arguably the most competitive motorsport category in the world, NASCAR, after dominating V8 Supercars in a brief but sensational stint in the local series.
Ambrose won two consecutive championships and ended the domination of the benchmark Holden Racing Team in 2003 and 2004 during a brief five-season spell.
From 2006 he moved to North America and climbed the NASCAR ladder, graduating into the premier Sprint Cup class from 2009.
Though success on ovals has been hard to come by, Ambrose has starred on road courses with six wins across the top two NASCAR tiers. A pair of fifth places on ovals so far in 2014 leaves him in the top 15 in standings and on course for his best season.
But V8 Supercars insiders are screaming out for Ambrose to come back to Australia. Speculation continues to link Ambrose with a potential return, most recently with NASCAR rival team Penske Racing, as the American giant looks set to enter V8 Supercars in a possible tie-up with Dick Johnson Racing.
Ambrose left Australia in the same year that Jamie Whincup moved across to Triple Eight, setting up the current powerhouse combination that has won all but one championship since 2008 and is at it again in 2014 with three wins from six races thus far.
V8 Supercars was deprived of a blockbuster battle between the two. While it’s been great to see an Australian competing on such a big stage and one of the toughest categories, V8 Supercars fans have been left with the feeling of what could have been.
Unless Ambrose can maintain his career-best start to the season and earn a spot in the NASCAR finals series, the Chase, then the appeal of home and V8 Supercars is likely to increase.
Remember, Ambrose never won at Bathurst. And that remains a sticking point. Turing 38 in September, Ambrose won’t want to wait too long should he still harbour ideas of a full-time V8 Supercars comeback.
The opportunity that presents itself with Penske could open the door. And what a massive fillip it would be for V8 Supercars, as it yearns for a consistent challenger to Whincup.
Whincup’s competition is getting closer. Young Kiwi and lead Volvo driver Scott McLaughlin seems destined to be a future champion and series benchmark. He is already pushing the current champ hard, while the likes of James Courtney, Mark Winterbottom, Craig Lowndes and co can on occasions get the better of Whincup.
But an Ambrose versus Whincup head-to-head would be something special, the two most recent dominators of the series taking each other on in a battle that every V8 Supercars fan wants to see.
While we wish Ambrose well in NASCAR, let’s hope he isn’t shutting the door on a return to V8 Supercars.