A.J. Allmendinger spoke out yesterday, calling his release from Carl Russo’s RuSport Racing, “a marriage gone bad."
Just hours after his surprising ouster, the lone American on the Champ Car World Series grid, said, "I'll admit the timing caught me off a bit, and I'm a little disappointed it happened after only four races. But we were having our troubles, and there were differences in what I wanted for the team and what they wanted for the team."
Allmendinger denied reports that a blowup following a fourth-place finish at the Milwaukee Mile Sunday had led to his ouster. “It wasn't one thing,” he said. “It just wasn't working. I'm an emotional person, I want to win, and sometimes my emotions are a little over the top. But I can't change that. I'm 24, and I'm still learning to get better, inside and outside the car.”
After offering no specifics in a hastily arranged press conference Friday, Russo said Saturday that his former driver “has to mature as a man, not just as a driver. He's the most naturally talented driver I've ever seen, but that's not all there is to this business. Our decision was that he was not going to improve, so it was time for both of us to try a new environment. Maybe some tough love will put him on the right path. Maybe he needs a less sympathetic environment.”
In addition to an apparent clash of personalities, Allmensinger and Russo differ dramatically in their approach to the sport. Allmendinger does not have the technical knowledge of his replacement, former series champion Christiano da Matta. And after hiring a pair of high-dollar engineers from Newman-Haas Racing during the offseason, sources in the Champ Car garage say Russo was anxious to try new things in an effort to displace Sebastien Bourdais from the top of the heap. Allmendinger reportedly resisted those efforts, believing that no major changes were needed. When Bourdais ripped off a trio of wins to start the season, Russo was left seething. In his words, “it’s getting annoying.”
Russo praised da Matta’s technical expertise this week, saying, “One of the things we're going to benefit from is his wealth of technical expertise, the background, the Formula One experience that will continue to drive the technical side of the equation forward. We have, we think, a very strong technical staff and we're looking forward to benefitting from Cristiano's experience there.”
So while all parties profess to having no hard feelings, Allmendinger is out of a ride. No one believes his fiery personality will prevent him from finding a new home in the Champ Car paddock, however. Even Russo said, “I believe A.J. will (remain) in Champ Car, because he's too good not to. I hope he can harness that fire and make it work.” One possibility is Forsythe Championship Racing, where Allmendinger’s relationship with Paul Tracy and Red Bull could mean a few sleepless nights for Mario Dominguez.
His longtime relationship with Red Bull has prompted speculation that Allmendinger could be headed to the new Team Red Bull NASCAR Nextel Cup team. While that possibility seems remote, Allmendinger said he is keeping all his options open. "I love Champ Car,” he said. “I love everything about it, and if I can get a ride with a chance to win, that's where I'll be. I'd love to be in Portland next weekend, but I don't have anything yet, and I haven't heard from anybody. I'm in the process of getting an agent and exploring my options.”
"I'll land somewhere, and it will be better for me."
But for now -- at least for the moment -- there are no Americans on the Champ Car grid once again.