CHAMPCAR/CART: Russo, da Matta teleconference, part 1

Champ Car Media Teleconference Transcript With Carl Russo And Cristiano Da Matta ERIC MAUK: Thank you very much. I'd like to welcome everyone to today's Champ Car media teleconference. As the majority of you know already from the release that...

Champ Car Media Teleconference Transcript With Carl Russo And Cristiano Da Matta

ERIC MAUK: Thank you very much. I'd like to welcome everyone to today's Champ Car media teleconference.

As the majority of you know already from the release that was put out by RuSPORT this morning, we are here to discuss the driver situation at RuSPORT. They have announced today that 2002 Champ Car World Series Champion Cristiano da Matta is taking over the #10 RuSPORT Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone effective immediately, which will begin with the GI Joe's Presents The Champ Car Grand Prix of Portland, where Cristiano is the defending champion, taking his 12th career win there one year ago.

We are joined today by the owner of RuSPORT, Carl Russo, as well as Cristiano da Matta. Thank you for joining us today. First question for Mr. Russo. Tell us a little bit about the developments surrounding this announcement.

CARL RUSSO: Well, I guess the question that's on everybody's mind is what happened with AJ. If I can just sort of take everybody back there, I think as everybody's aware, we formed the team at the end of 2002 to go compete in the 2003 Atlantic season. We did a driver runoff and chose AJ. AJ has been with us ever since.

With the state of open-wheel motorsport at the time, I guess it's possible that if not for RuSPORT, AJ might not be where he is today. But I can tell you for certain that if not for AJ, we wouldn't be where we are today. His talent, his efforts, his drive has certainly helped the team get to this point, and I consider him to be and still consider him to be amongst the most talented racers I have ever seen.

Having said that, there are times as you grow a business and grow a team where perhaps the growth curves of both the driver and team might be better suited to a change in environment. We came to that decision basically a couple of days ago and decided to move forward. Obviously, I'm looking forward to AJ getting into an environment that enables him to continue to grow. We will do the same here at RuSPORT.

ERIC MAUK: Cristiano has made the first four starts of the Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford season with Dale Coyne Racing, earned a top five right out of the box at Long Beach, is ninth in the championship points, but just 14 points out of the top five. Cristiano, tell us a little about your feelings on today's announcement. Obviously, a big step for you.

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Yeah, it's obviously a big step for me. Was actually a big surprise, too. Everything happened so quickly. It was just a great opportunity. You know, I'm on my sixth year on Champ Car racing, and I've only really had a chance to win and to go after the championship in two of my years. I feel like with RuSPORT now, I'm going to be able to go on and be a contender for the race win every weekend. I think it's just a great opportunity for me.

ERIC MAUK: Congratulations to both of you. We look forward to seeing you on the racetrack at Portland International Raceway next weekend. We'll go ahead and open it up for questions.

Q</I>: Obviously nothing against Cristiano's talent. AJ was the only American in the series. Those of us who write for primarily American publications can rely on him for some kind of perspective there. Certainly that had to be part of your decision, they were going to lose that.

CARL RUSSO: Well, there's no question that that's the case. When we founded the Atlantic team, we started with two American drivers, Aaron Justus and AJ Allmendinger. We are an American team. Our goal is to be the best open-wheel motorsport team in North America. Having said that, I believe you're going to find AJ is going to probably be in the paddock. He's far too great a talent to not be in the paddock. I suspect he's going to be in a competitive ride. I don't know that, but I suspect that will be the case. Part of this decision was do we think we lose AJ to the paddock. I think the answer there is no.

By the way, you could always rely on AJ for a perspective, because that's AJ. I think he's going to continue to do that. You know, let me state clearly, AJ has been a winner in every series he's ever been in. He's going to win in this one, too. I have no doubt.

Q</I>: You're confident he'll stay in Champ Car?

CARL RUSSO: Am I confident? I would be surprised if he does not, so I would certainly give odds on that he will.

Q</I>: Carl, again going back to the theme here about focusing somewhat on AJ's departure, we are to understand that this was a decision that was made by the team, not by AJ?

CARL RUSSO: This was a decision that was made by the leadership cadre of the team. We are going to do what we think is in the best interest to move to the front of the field, try to go and compete with Sebastien, because it's getting annoying (laughs).

Q</I>: If you could just talk about some of the things obviously that Cristiano brings to the team. Again, if we can all put aside the circumstances surrounding AJ, obviously, you're bringing a former champion and a guy who has a lot of experience and talent to the team. If you could talk about what he brings to the team.

CARL RUSSO: Well, I think you framed it correctly. Both AJ and Cristiano are multiple champions at multiple levels. The difference is at the margins. Cristiano, as you know, is a former champion. He's both a great person in and out of the car. But one of the things that we think we're going to benefit from is the wealth of technical expertise, the background, the Formula One experience, et cetera, to help us continue to drive the technical side of the equation forward.

We have we think a very strong technical staff. We're looking forward to benefitting from Cristiano's experience there. Having said that, you know, make no mistake about it, we think Cristiano is a great racer, a great qualifier, and somebody that's great speed, and showed a lot fighting his way back into the paddock at the beginning of this year. So we're looking forward to him to go to the front immediately.

Q</I>: If last year is any indication, what happened with Oriol Servia going from Dale Coyne Racing, this means you'll finish no worse than second in the championship this year, correct?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Okay, I'll be on the case.

Q</I>: Carl, a lot of times RuSPORT talks about trying to develop a culture around the team. Would you say at this point that AJ was no longer fitting into the culture or vision that you had for the team?

CARL RUSSO: So the answer is no, I don't think it was a cultural statement. By the way, we appreciate your pointing that out. It is very much a focus of what we're trying to do. It really came down to our perception of the growth rate of the team, the growth rate that AJ was on. There are times in any cultural dynamic when a change in the scenery will allow someone to break out and continue to grow at a fast rate. We felt that growth rate was slowing down, and we wanted to give both the team and AJ an opportunity to do it.

It was not a cultural mismatch. I mean, it would be hard for that to happen, AJ having been here since the founding of the team. But very good question.

Q</I>: Cristiano, I know we talked earlier this year and you said you went to drive for Dale because you wanted to stay in the Champ Car series and keep your face out there. I'm sure you couldn't have imagined an opportunity like this would have come along so quickly. Can you talk about your hopes of working with RuSPORT and Justin Wilson?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: In all my years, I only had really a chance to fight for a race win every weekend the two years I was in Newman/Haas before. I mean, all the other years I was running in teams that were not as competitive that would maybe give me a chance to win a race here and there, but not be a consistent race winner. Having a chance to win every weekend, I think it's just a great opportunity. I think RuSPORT is the team to be in at this moment in Champ Car.

I really -- what I really appreciate on them looking at the outside is the fire, how hard they try just going after, you know, Newman/Haas and Sebastien. I like this. We'll do whatever it takes to go after these guys and maybe, you know, one day we're going to obviously eventually beat them. I think that's the type of mentality I have, too, so I think we'll fit very well together.

With Justin, I don't know Justin extremely well, but I know him a bit. We've been always good friends. We've been always very respectful in the racetrack, out of the racetrack. I'm sure from what I know from his personality and I know from my personality, we're going to have a very good time working together.

CARL RUSSO: I think we have now found the tallest and shortest driver in the paddock. I don't know how you market it, but there you have it.

Q</I>: Carl, when this team made the decision, and it was presented to AJ, you said this was a move that was good for both the team and AJ, did AJ think it was a good move for him? The second question is, AJ is outspoken, always has been. Was that part of the reasoning for parting of the ways?

CARL RUSSO: On the first one, obviously, I can't tell you what AJ thinks. But, you know, in my conversations with AJ, look, AJ is a professional. He understands what we're doing and why. I think he's going to go about a deliberate process of making his decision for his next career move. I think he'll make a very good decision.

As far as being outspoken, you know, AJ has been outspoken since the first minute we tested him. If that was going to be an issue, it would have been an issue from that day. I don't think I'm known for being particularly shy either. Absolutely not. We expect all the members of the team to express themselves in ways that they're comfortable with. AJ does that, as does Justin. They're two different styles, but absolutely not, we want them to be complete people.

Q</I>: Was there an issue that brought this to a head? I'm also curious about AJ's reaction to the news.

CARL RUSSO: There was no incident, any instance. It was a team that was, again, a unanimous decision by the leadership team of the team. It was made some 48 hours, 72 hours ago. So, no, there's no one thing that I would point to and say, Look, there it is.

Your second question was?

Q</I>: How did AJ react to this?

CARL RUSSO: As a professional athlete. Understood, disappointed. But, you know, on a personal note, I have a lot of mixed emotions about this. You know, he and I started something way back when together at some level. I obviously only wish him well and very much want him to succeed.

I think he probably feels the same way, but you'll have to ask him.

Q</I>: Carl, I know you've answered this question already kind of, but was it entirely a results-driven decision? Were there any other factors involved in this at all?

CARL RUSSO: Yeah, it's a great question. Most of our decisions are rarely results based. They're more looking at how the person is developing in the role. If you want to look at results, AJ is either I think tied for fourth or fifth in the points, I don't remember which. One could argue that he's on the points and coming up.

It's not a results issue. It's a growth curve issue. We want AJ to grow as fast as he can. We want the team to grow as fast as we can. It's a whole set of little subtle points.

Q</I>: Cristiano, this is the second year in a row that Dale Coyne has lost a big-name driver during the season. What was his reaction when all this started to come about?

CRISTIANO da MATTA: Well, Dale obviously wasn't excited about it. It's a difficult situation for him, too. But I think he understands my situation and he knows very well where his team is at, you know, in the paddock and where RuSPORT is at in the paddock. He's been a driver before. He recognizes that it's just a hell of an opportunity for me and I just couldn't let it slip. Obviously, he wasn't happy by the time it happened. But I'm sure when he puts his head on the pillow at night, he understands my side, too.

Q</I>: Carl, if a driver of Cristiano's caliber and perhaps even Cristiano specifically not been available, would a change have happened?

CARL RUSSO: Well, that's a great question. I don't even know how to answer it. I don't know. Great question. I guess my answer for you is I actually don't know.

Q</I>: Is there any other driver you considered?

CARL RUSSO: Oh, we considered many, sure. We always keep an eye on drivers all the time, just as we always keep our eyes on mechanics and engineers and talent. We're trying to build a performance business. I think the leadership of any business like that has the responsibility to constantly be looked at people, talent, cultural fits, et cetera. That's an ongoing process, much like you may remember, we had an eye on Justin last year, the previous year, when he was at Mi-Jack. We would often tune into his radio, listen to what he was doing.

It's just what you do automatically. But we obviously rate Cristiano highly. I mean, to be clear, he was the unanimous choice on each of the leadership members of the team's list. There was never a question of who was first. He was available, and so we went forward. But I don't know how to answer your question. I really don't know.

Q</I>: I think you made a hell of a choice. If anybody had any doubts, it shows you are thoroughly serious about this business.

CARL RUSSO: We're thoroughly serious and we're certainly looking forward to Cristiano getting accustomed to the team and going and performing. We wanted to try and maybe right a wrong because we thought that Justin should have won at Portland -- never mind, I shouldn't say that (laughter).

Continued in part 2

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Justin Wilson , Oriol Servia , Carl Russo , Aaron Justus , Dale Coyne , Cristiano da Matta
Teams Dale Coyne Racing