OCTOBER 24, 2006
AJ Allmendinger jumps ship
Single-seater people tend to be rather arrogant, believing that open-wheeler drivers are the elite and that all other forms of the sport are somehow less important. This is a great weakness because it means that they can become blind to realities. Formula 1 has just finished a fascinating season with a superb showdown in Brazil. Things are looking up next year with a new generation of stars getting ready to step into the limelight but the sport still has serious problems of perception. Talk to any sponsor-hunter in the business and they will tell you that F1 could pull in so much more money if it adopted less buccaneering ways, people in the F1 paddock talk about how much better the sport would be if there was more confidence and respect between the teams and the FIA.
Over in America the men who run open-wheeler racing remain unable to find a way to solve their disputes. The Indy Racing League is heading now towards a series like CART used to be, having given up on the idea of running only on ovals. At the same time Champ Car is hoping that by taking to the streets, it will build a new audience. But what do these series have to excite young Americans? IRL can boast Danica Patrick and Marco Andretti but Sam Hornish and some of the older stars are openly looking to NASCAR these days. One day soon Danica too will take that route. Marco wants to race one day in F1. In Champ Car these is a similar story. The only US star of note is AJ Allmendinger and he has just announced that he is moving to NASCAR with Team Red Bull. Graham Rahal may step up and try to take AJ's mantle but he has ambitions in Europe as well. NASCAR is the series that is gaining all the time: with Red Bull, with Allmendinger and with Juan Pablo Montoya. It may be seen in F1 as "taxi racing" but if it delivers what the fans want to see and what the manufacturers want then it must be taken seriously. In F1 it is very clear that the future is neither what the fans nor the manufacturers want but for now they are accepting what they are given because F1 has a certain status and the ability to suddenly produce a race such as we saw in Brazil.
The way to success is discussion rather than dictation.
"I'm really excited about this next challenge in my racing career," Allmendinger said. "To race against some of the best drivers in the world in front of fans that are as enthusiastic about racing as I am is going to be a pretty big thrill. I know this is going to be a lot of work in the upcoming months, but I couldn't be happier to do it with Team Red Bull. Hopefully, we can all go out and deliver a good show."
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