Allmendinger: no hard feelings
|By David Malsher||Sunday, June 11th 2006, 13:38 GMT|
Champ Car ace AJ Allmendinger has insisted he harbours no grudge towards RuSPORT management, following his shock release from the team after a three-and-a-half year relationship.
Allmendinger, who currently lies fourth in the championship points table told autosport.com: "I'm disappointed with the timing, but I'm not going to say bad things about [team-owner] Carl Russo, or any of the guys there.
"We won the Atlantic series together in 2003, won Champ Car Rookie of the Year together in 2004, I got my first pole and a bunch of podium finishes last year.
"Without Carl, I wouldn't have got where I have, wouldn't have had the opportunity to establish myself. Simple as that."
Asked if there was a trigger point for this happening, Allmendinger said not.
"It was a build-up of things, I think, like a marriage gone bad. On my side, I felt things had actually got a little more comfortable, and I was improving - both in and out of the car - far more than I had last year. Maybe Carl didn't agree. But that's his prerogative, he's the boss. It's just the timing that sucks. "
Given that Cristiano da Matta, Allmendinger's replacement at RuSPORT, was available for hire from the end of last season right up until a fortnight before this season started when he signed with Dale Coyne Racing, many Champ Car observers are as bewildered as AJ himself at the timing of Russo's decision, four races into the 2006 season.
Last Sunday, Allmendinger was leading the Milwaukee round from teammate Justin Wilson at the first pitstops, but emerged behind the Briton. But Allmendinger insists he did not criticise his pitcrew or the team.
"No, not at all. You could see I was frustrated, but I didn't badmouth anyone. Shit, the day I do the perfect job in the cockpit is the day I can legitimately criticise others. I've always said that.
"When I get frustrated, I can get emotional and sometimes I can get a little over the top, but that's me, that's the way I've always been, and I'm never going to fully eradicate that.
"But that frustration isn't with my crew, it's with me and my engineer not managing to hit on a set-up that suits me, not getting the car under me that Justin's got under him.
"I've told Chris [Lerch, race engineer] that it's not a personal thing, I'm just frustrated," said Allmendinger. "He came into Champ Car at the same time as I did, at the start of 2004, so we were rookies together.
"But the fact is, I believe in him, and I believe in me. I believe he will win as a race engineer, and I believe I will win as a race driver. I just don't know if I'm the right driver for him right now."
There has been speculation that with his tie-up with the Red Bull drinks company, that Allmendinger might have been lured towards the Red Bull Toyota NASCAR team for 2007, but Allmendinger said his commitment to the Champ Car World Series has never been less than total.
"If there's one thing that I don't think Carl Russo could ever question it's my commitment to winning in this series. Could I have spent my season cruising round and scoring lots of fourths and fifths for RuSPORT? Hell yeah. That would be easy.
"The fact is though, I hate to lose. That's why I was getting frustrated. Because I think we had potential there. I took pole and then threw away the race at Edmonton last year, and we had three second places. I really wanted to win for RuSPORT, not just for me or for Carl but for my crew.
"I suppose the one consolation is that we weren't the only ones getting it wrong this year. No one out there is winning except Sebastien [Bourdais] and Newman/Haas."
Allmendinger is not expecting to do a straight swap with da Matta and join Dale Coyne Racing.
"Nah, I'm in this series to win, and there are only three teams with the potential to win in Champ Car right now, and that's Newman/Haas, RuSPORT and Forsythe. One of them's just dumped me, so that leaves the other two.
"I'll probably be in Portland, but at this time I doubt I'll be driving. I'm not in Champ Car just to be there, not there just to score points. It's about winning for me. So if I don't get the right opportunity in this series, I have to look elsewhere.
"I'm actually pretty excited about the other prospects that are open to me. There were situations I couldn't take advantage of before, because my RuSPORT contract was such a lock-down that I couldn't talk to other team managers. But there are people interested in me and that excites me."
Asked if that might involve Red Bull's NASCAR or even Formula One programmes, Allmendinger stated that he'd consider both.
"Sure, if it was the right situation and Red Bull really wanted me in NASCAR or Formula One, then yeah, I'd have to look at it.
"All I'm looking for is the right situation to succeed. And the opportunities that are opening up for me right now show that I have established myself. So now I'm less frustrated about the past, and more excited about the future. It's gonna be exciting."