Carl Russo is
bullish on Champ Car
RuSPORT owner Carl Russo
About one hour before the final race
of the 2004 Champ Car World Series season was about to begin in Mexico
City, AutoRacing1.com sat down with RuSPORT owner Carl Russo to
talk about his first year in Champ Car and about the future.
With his rookie driver AJ
Allmendinger already wrapping up the Rookie-of-the-Year award,
how did he feel the year went overall?
"I'm not totally
satisfied," said Russo, "but I'm not disappointed either.
We accomplished a great deal for a first year team."
"I have a sense we are gaining on
the competition, we are now competitive week-in and week-out.
"Michel Jourdain Jr. and his crew dealt very well with
the circumstances this year
because his program came together so late," said Russo, alluding to the
fact that Team Rahal left Champ Car just after Spring Training in Long
Beach last year and the RuSPORT team picked up Jourdain and his Gigante
sponsorship in the 11th hour.
AJ Allmendinger and his RuSPORT crew have done well together in their first
Their rookie driver AJ Allmendinger won the
Rookie of the Year award over ex-Formula 1 driver Justin Wilson.
"I'm proud of AJ winning the Rookie of the
Justin Wilson is a formidable competitor and he has a very good
team (Mi-Jack Conquest Racing). In the beginning of the year we were not even
thinking about the rookie award, and before we knew it AJ was in the
lead and won."
Although they are a rookie team,
starting to get into a position to challenge for Champ Car wins and
RuSPORT can smell blood.
"We are starting to get into a position
where we can sense we have a chance to win and we feel the
pressures that go with that," said Russo.
AJ gets doused with champagne after a podium finish in Vancouver
With the first year behind them, Russo is
already looking ahead to next year.
"We are looking at everything," said Russo. "Continuity is
weighed heavily in
this team. As you know it's all about people, culture and
process in a turnkey mode.
"We started with a grounds up
strategy and we are continuing to work that strategy. At
RuSPORT we are not about making major changes, you will see us
tweak our team," methodical changes so-to-speak.
There is a chance RuSPORT could become a
three-car team in 2005 despite the fact that there are rumors
one of their sponsors, Gigante,
may not be back.
"Next year we looked at running
anywhere from 1 to 3 cars," said Russo. We have already eliminated the
one-car option, so it will be two or three cars, with of course
two having more of a possibility right now."
Sounding and conducting himself a
lot like The Captain, Roger Penske, Russo says, "As for adding a
third driver, whoever we hire he must fit in with our team.
I hear some of the radio conversations during the race and I can
tell you some drivers would not fit in here."
As for sponsorship, Russo made it
clear he did not talk about the commercial side of the business,
at least not until deals are done. He did say, however, "I
am very encouraged with the way this series is progressing,
things are getting better and many more doors are starting to
With rumors of an Argentina, Brazil and
China or Middle East race to go along with Korea, Australia, Mexico and
Canada, we touched upon the apparent
international expansion of Champ Car and it was interesting to
hear Russo's view.
"I think we must stay NAFTA based
with an international flavor," said Russo. Whatever the
schedule, be it 16 or 18 races, 50% should be in the USA and
five in Mexico and Canada."
Unfortunately he didn't have time to
address the next obvious question, where do you find 8 or 9
successful USA races? Right now we count perhaps three
that we would call successful. The rest are marginal at
best and Champ Car is going to have to develop new markets in
order to get where Carl Russo would like Champ Car to be.
Meanwhile, if international venues become available that pay the
series a large sanctioning fee and draw huge crowds, Champ Car
needs to secure those events while they can, and pursue new
USA venues in a parallel path.
Competition and Future
The discussion on schedule and the
USA vs. international markets led right into the next obvious
question. Can Champ Car thrive in a heavily NASCAR
dominated USA market?
"I don't think NASCAR is our primary
competition," said Russo. "Most think of it that way, but
in reality our competition is all sports. We are in
competition with every major sport entity to win customers,
fans. NASCAR is not everything to everybody.
"I am betting on Champ Car. It
is the right level of technology and the right platform to reach
the NAFTA market. I am bullish on Champ Car. It has
series owners who care about making Champ Car succeed, and team
owners who want to see it succeed."
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