Sebring, Fla. – Test sessions for any racing series are usually boring affairs but when Roger Penske invited A. J. Allmendinger to test an IndyCar, it made people take notice. Without the slightest hesitation, Allmendinger jumped at the chance to drive. The scene unfolded at the IZOD IndyCar Series winter test at the Sebring International Raceway on Tuesday.
Allmendinger is no stranger to open-wheel competition, as he raced and won in Champ Car, but his last race took place in late 2006. Since then, he has been a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regular and had driven a Dodge for Penske Racing until he failed a random drug test a few months ago and was suspended by NASCAR. After successfully completing NASCAR’s Road to Recovery program, he was reinstated and has raced a handful of times in recent months, although he lacks a full-time ride in any series.
It feels good to be back in an IndyCar.
He did co-drive Michael Shank’s Daytona Prototype to third place in the recent Rolex24 at Daytona but beyond that race and a handful of Sprint Cup races scheduled for 2013, Allmendinger has been pacing the sidelines hoping for a ride to materialize.
Even though he was released by Penske Racing, Roger Penske has been an ardent supporter of Allmendinger and the two have been in frequent contact. But today is Allmendinger’s first day back in a Penske-prepared race car.
“It feels good to be back in an IndyCar,” Allmendinger said after the morning run. “These cars are tough to drive and it is coming back slowly. You have to adjust to the physical and mental side of the cars and learn how to do it again. On those first few laps, I was just holding on for dear life. I was definitely being driven by the car and still partially am, but I feel more comfortable with each lap. If I do a good job here and they want me and the sponsorship is there, I will be there.”
Penske Racing would like to run a third car for the Indianapolis 500, and Allmendinger looks to be the first driver in line if sponsorship can be found.
Rick Mears is a member of the Penske organization but said he didn’t have to offer any guidance to Allmendinger. “A. J. knows what he is going, and he’s doing a good job. He’s a talented driver and he’s a racer.”
Penske stalwarts Will Power and Helio Castroneves were also testing at Sebring, and they offered guidance and support to Allmendinger. Stated Power, “A. J. looked at the on-board data and asked for a couple of tips. He’s quick already and after a couple more days of testing, he will be on the pace.”
Regarding the invitation to test, Allmendinger commented, “I never expected the phone call from Roger (Penske). I am already happier than I have ever been. A couple of weeks ago, Roger asked me if I would be interested in a test drive, and I said, ‘Really, do you have to ask that?’ Then about a week ago, Roger and Tim (Cindric) said we are going to do the Sebring test, so I started getting ready. To be back with Roger Penske, whether full or part-time, is hard to turn down. I won’t make that mistake and turn it down. I will be ready to go.”
“For me, I am just looking for the best opportunity in whatever I can whether it is NASCAR, IndyCar, Grand-Am or whatever. I just want to go out there and compete at high level with a chance to win. And more than anything just be happy. From there, being happy is being competitive.”
Allmendinger has always been competitive and he’s a born winner, so it shouldn’t take long for the charismatic driver to return to the front of the field.