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Carl Russo is bullish on Champ Car
 by Mark Cipolloni

  November 9, 2004


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.

First year

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 year
Champ Car

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 Year award.  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, they are 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.

Next Year


AJ gets doused with champagne after a podium finish in Vancouver
Champ Car

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 open."

Future Schedule

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.

Champ Car's 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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