CHAMPCAR/CART: Allmendinger out, da Matta in at RuSPORT

A surprising move sent shock waves through the Champ Car world, with today's decision that Cristiano da Matta would be replacing A.J. Allmendinger in Carl Russo's No. 10 RuSPORT entry. The change is effective immediately and will be for the ...

A surprising move sent shock waves through the Champ Car world, with today's decision that Cristiano da Matta would be replacing A.J. Allmendinger in Carl Russo's No. 10 RuSPORT entry. The change is effective immediately and will be for the remainder of the season.

Allmendinger, the series' only full-time American driver, has been a rock at RuSPORT since the team was founded in 2002. He led them to the Atlantic championship in 2003 and was brought up to Champ Car a year later, winning rookie of the year honors. While he has not yet visited the winner's circle, he is one of the most talented drivers in the field and is now temporarily on the sidelines.

"A.J. has been with us since we created RuSPORT late in 2002," Russo said in this morning's teleconference. "However, as RuSPORT and A.J. have progressed, we believe a different environment will help A.J. to grow even faster, and so we have made this very difficult decision."

The Loveland, CO based team has prided itself on being a full-blown American operation, since its beginnings in 2003 with Allmendinger and Aaron Justus driving in Atlantic. What can't be overlooked is that for the majority of Allmendinger's two and a half years with RuSPORT is that his yellow car has lacked primary sponsorship - while his teammates have not. The only decals on his car this year have been Red Bull's, and they have only committed to the rear wing.

Da Matta currently stands ninth in the standings after switching to Dale Coyne Racing at the beginning of the season. The 2002 series champion is also the defending winner of the next round at Portland. Despite being caught off guard by the decision, the Brazilian is upbeat about his chances.

"To say this is a great opportunity would be an understatement," da Matta said. "This is my sixth season in Champ Car. Only in two of the previous five seasons have I felt like I could fight for a race victory every time I went to the track. Now, I can say I have that opportunity again with RuSPORT."

Allmendinger's status for the foreseeable future is up in the air, but chances are that he won't be a spectator for too long. Forsythe Racing's Mario Dominguez is in hot water after causing two first lap accidents this year, both involving his own teammate Paul Tracy and Bruno Junqueira and once collecting Allmendinger.

Champ Car has grown to an international status, with its very diverse field. While Champ Car faces the prospect of a race without an American, Formula One is enjoying its first American in 13 years and the IndyCar Series has two young ones that they are currently riding to more coverage. This (Champ Car) is a series that has already lost Jimmy Vasser to semi-retirement and Ryan Hunter-Reay to free agency, and it would play out best for them if Allmendinger doesn't face the same fate.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Jimmy Vasser , Bruno Junqueira , Paul Tracy , Mario Dominguez , Ryan Hunter-Reay , Carl Russo , Aaron Justus , Cristiano da Matta