SEBRING, Fla. – A winter test day at Sebring Int’l Raceway was meant to be routine, the first test of the year for IZOD IndyCar Series teams as they continue preparations for the season-opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 24.
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 Indycar was on Oct. 21, 2006, at Surfers Paradise, Australia.
Now a veteran of six stock car seasons, Allmendinger was sitting behind the wheel of a race car much lower to the ground, attempting not to add pressure to the session but anxiously envisioning where this day would lead.
“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 offered Allmendinger a testing opportunity with the potential for a partial season during the 19-race IZOD IndyCar Series schedule. Cindric said the April 5-7 race at Barber Motorsports Park would be a good event to enter Allmendinger, who would benefit from a March 12-13 Open Test at the road course in Leeds, Ala. The possibility also exists for Allmendinger to race in the Indianapolis 500.
“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, 31, of Los Gatos, Calif., was suspended by NASCAR last summer for failing a random drug test. His “B” sample also came back positive for a banned substance and he was released by Penske Racing from his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series contract. Allmendinger completed the Road to Recovery program and was reinstated in September. He is in good standing with IndyCar.
“Will and Helio have welcomed me into their race team with open arms and I’m definitely happy to be here,” he said. “I’d love for it to lead to some races, especially Indy. I’m so grateful to the organization to give me this opportunity. To 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 to race) 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. 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.”