Is RuSPORT the Real Deal?

 by Jose Arrambide
July 17, 2004

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Michel Jourdain Jr.

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 Car operation.

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 professionals.

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 that.”

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 the case."

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 people were 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 chances.

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 weekend."

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 package."

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 have."

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.

The author can be contacted at feedback@autoracing1.com

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