Here's the story of a group of dedicated
professionals who decided to form a team called RuSPORT in the premier ladder
series for Champ Car, the Toyota Atlantic series. In their first year of existence
and with two debuting drivers in the series they won the championship. Having
achieved their goal so quickly they decided to take on a more difficult challenge,
so they took their two car Atlantic operation and turned it into a one car Champ
They were going to play some ball in the big league
with the big boys. But wait, the story gets even better. Just before the beginning
of the season they expanded into a two car operation, forcing them to double their
efforts in just days. So I've made it my mission to discover if people at RuSPORT
are plain lunatics or a bunch of confident, hard working people who are not afraid
of a real challenge and are not afraid to step up to the plate.
I had help in my quest, as Michel Jourdain and Jeremy Dale, Team President,
answered a lot of questions to help me decide if RuSPORT is the real deal. I
had the advantage that RuSPORT is the only team with a PR position dedicated only
to Latin America, and being Mexican myself, I asked to talk to these two
First of all I have to be honest with everyone. When RuSPORT first announced that
they were going to move to Champ Car after only one year in Toyota Atlantic I
thought they were going to be the Champ Car version of Minardi, but when they
announced the second car expansion just before the Long Beach race I just thought
everyone in the RuSPORT organization was crazy and that their Champ Car effort was
going to be a complete failure. After six races, they have proven me wrong.
Team President Jeremy Dale
They are starting to look to me like the real deal,
and not because of the podium finish in Milwaukee (any given race day anyone can
have a great day), but because they have shown in their last four races that they
have speed, not enough to fight for first place but they have shown enough speed
to fight with the boys up-front.
I talked with Michel first, and I was curious to know how he thought RuSPORT was
different from previous teams he had worked with. He used the word "ganas" which
is used in Mexico to describe someone who is eager and has a determination to do
whatever needs to be done. Michel said, "I have never seen a team with more "ganas"
than RuSPORT. Carl Russo knows what he wants, and knows how to get it, and I'm
sure as a team we will do whatever we have to do to get there."
I was also curious to know in Michel's words what areas RuSPORT is still
struggling. He told me that "We still need a few more people with a lot of
experience. I like the mentality the team has for hiring people. They will not
hire someone just to fill a position. They will take the necessary time to find
the right people, and when we get them they will be very good. The experience part
is more tricky. We need to get to know the car better, but only time will give us
Team Owner Carl Russo
When asked about the results RuSPORT has had in the
first six races, and if those results were better or worse than what he expected
Michel said, "At Long Beach and Monterrey I was expecting a lot more, but then in
Milwaukee I never thought we could do so well as a team. After Milwaukee I've
decided to enter every race without any expectation. I've decided to work hard
with the team to keep improving every race."
Then I asked Michel to give me a prediction for the remainder of the season based
on their first six races. “It's still too early to give an idea of the remainder
of the season. I can tell you that the podium finish in Milwaukee along with the
places we've been fighting for in the last races, have been very positive. But it
is very negative that I'm in thirteenth place in the standings. Perhaps if I
didn't have that incident in Cleveland and get involved in the Tracy incident in
Toronto I could have been fifth or sixth place in the standings, but in racing
there is no 'perhaps'."
We talked later about any favoritism in RuSPORT. I wanted to know if there is a
number one and number two driver like in other teams. Michel explained that
"RuSPORT has no number one or number two driver, both drivers have 100% backing
from the team. You have to remember that AJ Allmendinger knows his crew very well;
he has been working with them for over a year. I got to meet my crew a few days
before Long Beach and I'm still getting to know them. So maybe in the first few
races some people could think AJ was receiving special treatment, but that was not
Michel and AJ get along well, seen here fooling around at Long Beach
I told Michel that a lot of fans thought that his
big improvement came after he was teamed with Jimmy Vasser and that a lot of
expecting AJ to learn a lot from him in the same way. He told me that "I did learn a lot from Jimmy, and AJ will learn
a lot from me, but AJ is in a very different situation that I had with Jimmy. I
had a lot of experience in Champ Cars when I learned from Jimmy. AJ has a double
learning curve; we have to remember he is a rookie."
I asked Michel to compare Carl Russo with other owners. "I've worked with great
owners such as Dale Coyne, Tony Bettenhausen, and Bobby Rahal, people whose life
revolved around racing completely. But Carl is a businessman who is concentrating
on racing, and being a great businessman he has a different vision from the past
owners I worked with. His vision is not better or worse, it is just different."
I couldn't talk with Michel without mentioning his reaction after the incident
with Tracy in Toronto. I told him that although he has always been considered Mr.
Nice Guy, a lot of fans after seeing him staying on the track to sort of confront
Tracy with his fists in the air showed that even though he is still Mr. Nice Guy
off the track, he is more passionate on the track. "I haven't thought about it,
but now that you ask, I can tell you that perhaps I'm in a different situation, a
situation where you have to risk more and be more passionate about racing. When
you qualify in the first three places you know that in order to finish on the
podium you have to take care of your car, run cleanly and have fast pit stops. But
when you qualify in twelfth place you need to be real fast, you need to take
Jourdain at Long Beach
I also asked Michel to tell me if he thinks his
experience has helped RuSPORT to improve their performance. "I can't tell you
that; I wouldn't be objective about myself would I? You would need to ask someone
from the team."
Finally I asked Michel about the situation with Champ Car in 2004. "A few drivers
moved to other series, but very good drivers came to the series, like Justin
Wilson and AJ. I think driver-wise we are the same or a little bit better than
last year. Of the six races we have had, a few have been better, a few worse, that
happens every year no matter what. The important thing is that the series has the
potential to make 2004 a much better year than 2003, something great if you
remember we didn't have a series in January."
Jourdain gets team's first podium with a 3rd at Milwaukee
After talking with Michel I had the pleasure of
talking with Jeremy Dale, Team President of RuSPORT. I took Michel's advice and
asked Jeremy to tell me in his opinion if after six races he thinks adding Michel
at the last minute was for the better or worse. "We are still playing catch-up. AJ
does not have a spare car yet. We have had the car in the shop but haven't had the time
to built it. That's an easy example of how we are still working to catch up.
Having said that I can tell you that having Michel has been an incredible asset.
And besides in Open Wheel racing having only one car is very challenging. By
adding a second car we get more information about the performance of the cars, and
we get to compare information. Having a second car is a benefit any way you look
at it. AJ is still a rookie, but Michel has a great deal of experience. He has
helped us in so many ways I can't even begin to explain it. We are still paying
the price of adding a second car so late, but it's a decision we support 100% and
we know that when we get to the point we are shooting for it will be great."
I asked Jeremy if the results of these first six races were more or less of his
expectations. "The results at Milwaukee were way ahead of where we thought we
would be, and we think we earned that, but it was a unique event. At Toronto
Michel and at Cleveland Michel and AJ were driving in the first positions. I feel
we are making great progress. We have fast cars, not the fastest ones, but fast
nevertheless. Our main challenge now will be qualifying; if we can keep that
progress we will have a bigger challenge, to have a few more podiums."
I asked Jeremy if with more time to prepare for next year, RuSPORT will be more
aggressive, more structured, in a capacity to fight for a championship. "You said
more aggressive. In building RuSPORT our only goal is to win races; we are very
aggressive right now. Newman/Haas has 25 years of racing experience, Forsythe one
way or another has been racing for 20 years. They have a head start, so to expect
we can win a Championship.
It doesn't mean we are not going to try it, because we want to win. We don't care
who wins; we want both Michel and AJ to win. We want them to be contenders every
I asked Jeremy to compare RuSPORT with rookie teams of the past to see if he felt
they were doing great in comparison. I even mentioned the example of the
Bettenhausen team struggling for a lot of years. "I wouldn't like to compare with
past rookie teams. The landscape has changed. Now we all practically have Lolas,
we all have the same Bridgestone tires, and the same engine. For a young team in
the past it was very challenging to build a package with all the different
options, so it's very fortunate for us to know we have proven equipment. We still
know that a few teams have a lot of experience with this engine, and they really
know the tracks. They know how to make those cars run fast at those specific
tracks. That's our main disadvantage, but our advantage is we have the same
I continue with this subject and asked Jeremy, "But you have to agree that a team
with less than two years of experience, having already won a championship and
having one podium in their rookie year at Champ Car puts RuSPORT as one of the
greatest rookie teams in Champ Car history." Jeremy had this to say, "I can't tell you how proud I am and how proud Carl Russo is for the
effort of putting this team together. I don't want to take away from the Bettenhausens of the world; they paid their dues. I think our modest success is
the result of the committed and smart people that we have and the great drivers we
I finally asked Jeremy to tell me if RuSPORT is here to stay in Champ Car. "We
believe in this series. It is very different from NASCAR; it is very different
from the IRL. I believe in the three great owners we have. We know they are
working very hard so Champ Car can have strong teams. They know the only way for
this series to work is to have strong teams that can operate like a business, so
yes I see RuSPORT in Champ Car in the long run."
After talking to Michel and Jeremy I was convinced no one in RuSPORT is a lunatic.
They indeed are the "Real Deal" and have a great future in Champ Car.
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