While many of the veteran drivers decided to do minimal effort in Saturday’s practice it was an important time for Allmendinger, Munoz and Vautier because they are now cleared to practice for the Indianapolis 500 by passing ROP. The other rookie in this year’s field, Conor Daly, is competing in a GP3 race in Spain and won’t return to the United States until Sunday night. He will have to pass ROP the early part of the week before he can begin competition for A.J. Foyt Racing.
“Oh, I’m a rookie,” said Allmendinger, a former Champ Car Series star and a part-time driver in NASCAR Sprint Cup. “I feel like it out there. I have to admit, the first lap on the racetrack was pretty special going down the back straightaway and thinking about that I was at Indy preparing for the Indy 500, especially being in a Roger Penske race car. For me, it was pretty cool. I was kind of just thinking about that as I was going down the straightaway. Then I realized that corner comes up really quick, so I should start focusing again. All around for me, I thought it was better than expected. I didn’t really know what to expect. I was pretty much making myself nervous and stressing myself out thinking about what was going to happen.
“You know, I really have to thank Helio (Castroneves) a lot, because for him to shake the car down was one thing. But to be there on the headset talking to me before, during and after; that guy’s obviously got a wealth of knowledge and experience at this place. For him to take the time out of the day when he could have been working on his own program or just back at the trailer relaxing, it meant a lot to me. I have to thank him a lot for getting me up to speed pretty quick.”
As for Munoz, the Firestone Indy Lights driver from Colombia was impressive in his first effort for Andretti Autosport and had the third fastest lap of the day at 220.720 mph.
“It was awesome,” Munoz said. “My first lap, as AJ said, it was really special. I remembered when I was back in Colombia when (Juan) Montoya won this race. It was really special for me. Right now I’m in the same spot as him at the Indy 500 on a really good team, so that was really special. It was totally different from the Indy Lights. The speed and everything is just more fast. The car reacts different. Each time I was on the track I was feeling stronger and stronger, more confident with the car. I knew what to do. I’m really happy but still a long, long way to go. This is just the beginning.”