Gordon Kirby

Why NASCAR is tougher than F1

Don't ever fool yourself that NASCAR stock cars are anything but tough to drive and even more difficult to race. The cars weigh 3500 pounds and the single-camshaft rocker-arm, stock block-based V8 engines produce more than 850bhp, which makes its way to the pavement through relatively tiny 10-inch wide tyres without benefit of wings or underbodies.

Juan Pablo Montoya won races in Indycars and Formula 1 before deciding to jump to NASCAR at the end of 2006. Even though he's had little success in NASCAR, Montoya is enjoying himself much more than in his Fl days. "Like everything, some years are better than others and some weeks are better than others, especially in NASCAR," he says. "I think in open-wheel when you have a good car, you have a good car But in NASCAR you have a good car one week and the next you don't even know what hit you. It's incredible because when you're off, it's painful. For a driver, it's really, really hard, but that's what makes it interesting.

"It's very, very different to F1 In Grand Prix racing you go into a race with a plan and you execute your plan and hope your plan is better than the next guy. There's no magic, no secret, no choice of two tyres versus four tyres on pitstops. In F1, you have a strategy and that's it. That's why racing in NASCAR is so much more exciting than F1 Here, there's never a fixed strategy and with the cautions and so many pitstops these races are very hard to predict I think that's why in NASCAR experience sometimes plays such a big role in the result."

Montoya has no doubt that the driver makes a greater difference in NASCAR than in F1 "A lot more he emphasises. "In F1 at the end of the day you didn't even have to talk to your engineers for them to tell you that you're loose here or you've got understeer there. In F1 they'll tell you we've got to move the 'diff or do this or do that, but in NASCAR it's based on whatever the driver says and that makes a big difference. It's all based on the driver's feel and that makes it a lot harder."

Australian Marcos Ambrose has raced regularly in NASCAR for the past six years. Ambrose has won NASCAR races on road courses at Watkins Glen and Sears Point, but has yet to win on an oval. "It's unbelievable how difficult it is to get around an oval," he says. "You are absolutely on the edge for the whole race and as soon as you think that you can't dig any deeper then you've got to dig deeper. It's just amazing how bad the cars handle and how you've got to push yourself really hard to get the most out of your car You've got to stay on top of the wheel all day. It's rewarding when it goes right, but when you're having tough day, man, there's no worse feeling than driving a bad-handling Cup car.

"It's like a dance out there," Ambrose continues. "The car is always sliding around on you. The handling is never stable like with a formula car or sports car It's incredible how you've got to change your driving style to suit how the car's handling. At the same time you've got to be looking at the different grooves. You've got to look at where other people are running, and where the air is going to help you because if you follow a car you're not going to get the air on the nose that you need. It's like a dance. It's a challenge, no doubt about it.

Ambrose believes NASCAR is the world's most competitive form of racing. "It's the toughest in the world, absolutely no doubt at all he adds. "You can be driving your very best and finish 30th and when you're 30th you're fighting somebody who may have already won a Cup championship. It's incredible how deep the field is and I'm proud to be part of it."