|Allmendinger shakes down an IndyCar|
But having A.J. Allmendinger join the group of IZOD IndyCar Series regulars was far from standard. The last time Allmendinger ran laps in an Indy car was on Oct. 21, 2006, at Surfers Paradise, Australia.
Now a veteran of six NASCAR seasons, Allmendinger was behind the wheel of a race car much lower to the ground, not looking to add pressure to the session, but absolutely envisioning where a successful outing could leave him.
"How do you get into this thing?" Allmendinger joked with the Team Penske crew.
"Just be careful you don't break anything," replied Penske Racing president Tim Cindric. "Remember the goal is to start here and stop here."
Team owner Roger Penske and Cindric have offered Allmendinger a testing opportunity and the potential for a partial season of IZOD IndyCar Series racing in 2013. Cindric has said Penske may enter Allmendinger in the April 7 race at Barber Motorsports Park, after testing him again in a March 12-13 session on the road course in Birmingham, Ala. The possibility also exists for Allmendinger to race in the Indianapolis 500.
|"My heart was beating fast..."|
"My heart was beating fast and the first couple of runs, the car was definitely driving me," said Allmendinger, who edged Justin Wilson for Champ Car Rookie of the Year honors in 2004. "I'm looking for the best opportunity. It slowly has come back to me. Everything feels real fast. A Cup car has more horsepower, but because of its weight that sensation of speed is a lot different. When you get an IndyCar on a road course, it feels like it has 1,500 horsepower."
Allmendinger was suspended by NASCAR last summer for failing a random drug test. He was subsequently released from his driving contract by Penske Racing, before completing NASCAR’s Road to Recovery program and being reinstated in September.
"Will (Power) and Helio (Castroneves) have welcomed me into their race team with open arms and I'm definitely happy to be here," he said. "I'd love for this to lead to some races, especially Indy. I'm so grateful to the organization to give me this opportunity. (After) what I went through last year, to have Roger ask me to come here and drive one of his race cars happy is an understatement.
"In this process, I've learned a lot about myself and how to be a better person. All I can do is take care of myself and the things you can control. Waiting (for a call from a team owner) doesn't matter. I'm just going to be ready physically and mentally for when they do call."
Power, who competed against Allmendinger in the '06 Champ Car season, said he's already fitting in with the team.
"He's easy to get along with,” said Power. “When I raced him, he was very fast. That year, had he started with Forsythe, he probably would have won the championship. I'd love him as a teammate."
Friend and Indy Car competitor Justin Wilson called Allmendinger, “a really fun guy to be around, easy-going and obviously a fan favorite. He's quick as well, and can back up all his kidding around off the track with speed on the track.”
Wilson and Allmendinger were teammates in Champ Car at RuSPORT during the 2005 season, in which Wilson finished third in the championship (behind titlist Sebastien Bourdais and Oriol Servia) and Allmendinger placed fifth. The previous season, Allmendinger has edged Wilson for Rookie of the Year honors. The two recently teamed up to co-drive a Michael Shank Racing entry to third place in the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
"He'll get back up to speed quickly,” said WIlson. “It's the finer details of the car that take time. I enjoy racing him and would love to do so again. I think he would bring some interest to the series."
Bourdais, a four-time Champ Car champion, who is entering his second season with Dragon Racing, agreed, saying, “He's a tough racer. He's fast and the records speak for themself. We had some pretty serious battles. It will be interesting to see how it shakes out. Maybe he'll get back full time, (and if so) he's going to be running at the front with one of the best cars."