View from the Topside
Champ Car Teams/Drivers in transition over the winter

   by Rick Benjamin
November 10, 2005

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AJ Allmendinger won the pole in Edmonton, and almost won the race
Champ Car

While itís sad to see the 2005 Champ Car season come to a close this past weekend in Mexico City, itís surely comforting to know how much work and growth has been accomplished for the tour in the past 12 months, and how many more gains are ahead for the World Series in the years to come.

Watching RuSPORT become a winning team has to rank among the seasonís high points. Iím as surprised as anyone that Justin Wilson earned both the teamís wins this season while AJ Allmendinger is still searching for his first victory. I thought Allmendingerís talents and passion would combine to make him a breakout star this year. While AJ was usually quick in qualifying and earned his share of podium finishes, victory was elusive.

Allmendinger demands much from himself, as do all the great drivers. Itís seemed at times as though Carl Russoís toughest job might be to keep the youngster from California calm and confident when he made some serious mistakes behind the wheel. But AJís desire to win now may be even stronger than before. And now that heís seen his teammate Wilson get the job done, I believe once Allmendinger earns his breakthrough victory the wins will come in bunches.

Itís not an uncommon situation in big league racing. You need great talent to go fast, and Allmendinger has that. You need a top-level team to give you good race cars week after week, and Allmendinger has been blessed in that way as well. The final ingredient for most is the toughest to find: the mental toughness to overcome adversity and close the deal, going from leading midway to beating back all challenges and going to Victory Lane. Allmendinger is a proven winner in other series, and I suspect his first Champ Car victory is not far off.

Will Power (R) appears to have the right stuff to be a winner in Champ Car
Mark Cipolloni/AutoRacing1.com

Itís been a strong season in many ways for Walker Racing as well. Derrick Walkerís Team Australia concept appears to be taking hold. His commercial partner Craig Gore has brought significant support to Walkerís efforts and theyíve signed some terrific young Aussie talent. Will Power appears to have the right stuff after just two outings, including a top-ten finish Sunday in Mexico City. And the veteran hand of Alex Tagliani will continue to provide quality leadership as Team Australia moves forward. I think the futureís plenty bright for Walker Racing.

CTE-HVM Racing is another key case study. There is a body of thought in the sport that says if teams or the series can attract enough star power off the race track, that will translate into more success in the marketplace for teams, drivers, and tracks.

While itíd be tough for any series to match the wattage Paul Newman brings to the party, adding a big name who is attractive to a different demographic could be a godsend for Champ Car and the HVM bunch. Cedric the Entertainer has impressed us in his two appearances on our broadcasts. Heís a genuinely good and funny guy who really seems to love the sport and the series. Iím hoping he can help HVM attract the commercial backing they need to return to the top level.

Nelson Philippe (L) and Oriol Servia (R) showcased their talent in 2005
Steve Levinson/AutoRacing1.com

Of course there are several other teams in transition going into the winter. And there are some key driver moves yet to be made. Iíd love to see Ryan Hunter-Reay return to HVM, or move to a third seat at Forsythe. It appears Mario Dominguez is set to stay as PTís teammate, and thatís certainly good news. And Andrew Ranger and Nelson Philippe can be as good as anyone in the seasons to come, so finalizing their plans to return to Mi-Jack Conquest will be a top off-season priority.

PKV Racingís situation is also one weíll watch very closely. Itís no secret that Jimmy Vasserís been considering whether, at 39, heís run his last Champ Car event. This is a bit personal, but Iím hoping thatís not the case. Jimmy has surely established that he remains very fast and competitive, with two top-three finishes in his last three starts. And heís told us several times he feels heís still very capable.

Readers of tea leaves could find indications in both directions for Vasser and his driving future. I know itíll be a few weeks before Jimmy makes up his mind, but hereís a vote for at least one more year for the 1996 series champ. Champ Car needs all the veteran hands and recognizable American names it can find at this point, and thereís no better ambassador for the series than Vasser.

As weíve seen elsewhere here on AutoRacing1, there may well be many more top-level drivers than seats available come 2006. Hopefully some teams will expand, and Champ Carís talent level will continue to rise. Long Beach canít get here soon enough, in my view.

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