Marcos Ambrose left V8 Supercars in 2005 a winner.
In his first race back at the Sydney on Saturday, the best he could do was 20th.
“I’ve got a lot to learn,” a smiling and sweaty Ambrose said.
The 38-year-old got through four practice sessions without a scratch, but a concrete barrier got the better of him and his Ford Falcon during qualifying.
Dick Johnson Racing and a crew from Team Penske flown in from America managed to repair the wildcard entry in time for Ambrose’s first race in the series in nine years.
“I was disappointed with myself after qualifying when I clipped the wall,” he said.
“I certainly feel better after doing all those laps.”
The two-time champion started at the back of the pack but gained four places in just two laps.
By mid-race he found himself toe-to-toe with his old sparring partner and former Stone Brothers Racing teammate Russell Ingall.
The pair racked up three V8 titles in a row a decade ago – Ambrose in 2003 and 2004, and Ingall in 2005.
“I was trying to be a good boy out there, following my old mate Russell – we had a bit of a stoush,” the Tasmanian said.
“The biggest issue was the window net kept falling down, so I had to keep pulling that up during the race.
“So I had my hands full there, just trying to understand everything and getting out the new-car gremlins.
“But we’ll pick it up here (Sunday) and see if we can do better in the longer (250km) race.”
Ambrose said there was no question the calibre of racing in V8 Supercars had improved since he last competed before moving to America’s NASCAR series.
“I left winning and (now) I’m running 20th,” referring to his back-to-back wins in the final round of the 2005 season at Phillip Island.
“There’s absolutely no doubt it’s picked up.
“I kind of feel the car’s upside down for me – everywhere I need grip I’ve got none, and everywhere I don’t need it I’ve got a lot.
“Once I get more competitive out there I’ll feel better about it.”
He finished 21st in the second of Saturday’s 125km races, which was cut short after a wild storm lashed the street circuit.
It was looking like he would finish last, though, after being spun by veteran Craig Lowndes at turn one of the opening lap.