One of the youngest teams in the Champ Car World Series is also the first to confirm its driver lineup for the 14- race 2005 campaign.
RuSPORT, which will begin its second season in the series has confirmed the return of A.J. Allmendinger, 2004 Roshfrans Rookie of the Year and will add, for its second car the man who chased the kid from Hollister all during this year's campaign, Briton Justin Wilson will be its second driver.
Team owner Carl Russo knocked around the idea of returning to RuSPORT's original intent of having a single entry, once again competing with a two- car squad or even enlarging the team's Colorado base to encompass a three- car challenge. In the end, "I came to the conclusion that a symmetrical two-car team was our best opportunity to get to the front," said Russo, "so A.J. will return in the #10 and Justin will drive the #9."
Last season RuSPORT initially entered the Champ Car wars as a single-car squad but, when veteran driver Michel Jourdain Jr.'s services became available the first of April Russo couldn't say no. "It happened virtually overnight but we never did get it right," as a two-car team. "I wish Michel the best; he did a great job for us."
What Russo and his brain trust learned over the past season that it's people and culture" that determine the worth of an enterprise. "This series is tough," he exclaimed. "Some teams are extremely switched on in this series."
Allmendinger, who was the Barber Dodge Pro Series champion as a rookie in 2002 and took the Toyota/Atlantic Championship in 2003, also as a rookie thought his first year in Champ Car "went very well. The team did a fantastic job, particularly the crew themselves. They went through a lot of stress to get the second car ready and they made no mistakes on my car.
"On my part," Allmendinger continued, "I could improve. I made mistakes and I was disappointed with how I drove at some races. Next year I'll have a stronger team around me and a good chance to take the championship," he declared.
"This team including Justin will have a huge benefit. I have a lot of respect for Justin and know he's capable and fast. He'll push me to get better and I think we'll push each other in 2005 battling for wins."
Wilson, a veteran of Formula 3000 and Formula One spent much of his season learning circuits and his competition. "I'm very excited about the new season. This has been a great year but I wanted the environment with an opportunity to win," something the lanky Briton didn't think he had with the Mi-Jack Conquest Racing team led by former Indy Lights champ Eric Bachelart.
"This is a very professional team and I look forward to the new season working with A.J. He's very quick," Wilson acknowledged. "Champ Car met my expectations and I think the new owners are doing the right things in the right order ant the right time. Champ Car has a lot to offer drivers," with its varied types of circuits and challenges he believes.
Allmendinger, in his own first year as a Champ Car driver believes he learned a few lessons: "I learned how to pace myself in these longer races," he explained. "Before, in Atlantic the longest races I'd run were 45 minutes. I realized this year that if the car isn't right, the race is long enough to fix it and I don't need to force the issue.
"At Toronto I forced myself into a mistake and at Mexico City (the season finale) I think I drove the best of the year. I qualified just okay but paced myself during that race," Allmendinger recalled of the last event of the year.
Wilson is of the mind that he'll be racing in the US-based Champ Car World Series for a long time, despite the fact that Russo wouldn't reveal the length of contract for either driver. "The series is much like F3000 where you share information, where a good teammate you can work with can help you to the front.
"I think with A.J. I've got a teammate who I can learn from and I think we'll push each other to get the maximum from what we have. I'll make my lot over here; at the minute I'm very happy to be part of RuSPORT and the Champ Car World Series but I'd never hold anything out and would return to F1" with the proper team. Wilson worked with Minardi and Jaguar teams in F1.
While Carl Russo declined to talk about commercial partnerships for the 2005 season he did note that "When there's news, just like today we'll talk. I have no comment on that today, unfortunately," he said.
One of his top priorities in putting together next year's driving squad was having the right chemistry in place, something Russo didn't believe he had with Allmendinger and Jourdain last year. "Chemistry is one of my top three priorities because all of the drivers in Champ Car these days are quick, talented and experienced. There's a lot of winners on our grids and so I had to look at more subtle things" in making his choices.
"Justin has confidence and honesty with himself in the car and, when you're working in a series as close as this, understanding yourself and the car is extremely important.
"Both of these drivers just get in and go; they have very good feedback and, I believe that they are both willing to share and learn. I'll probably have the tallest and shortest drivers on the grid next year; I think they'll be winners."
RuSPORT has not yet set its starting date for pre-season testing, but initial on-track work should begin within the next few weeks. "I want to put the best two cars on the race track," Russo declared, "and he believes the team he's put in place has the right stuff to do just that.