In his first official practice day, Allmendinger paced the three Team Penske entries with a fast lap of 218.967 mph.
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Team Penske began preparation to chase its record 16th victory in the Indianapolis 500 with strong laps Saturday during the opening day of practice for the 97th of the running of the 500-mile race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The story of the day for Team Penske was AJ Allmendinger easily passing his rookie orientation program, clearing the way for the driver of the No. 2 IZOD Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet to begin practicing for his first open-wheel competition at the legendary Brickyard.
“I went down the back straightaway the first lap thinking to myself this is pretty sweet; I’m driving the IZOD Team Penske car on the backstretch of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway,” said Allmendinger, who completed 52 laps within an hour to pass his rookie test.
“I have to thank (Team Penske teammate) Helio (Castroneves) just a ton because his going out there and shaking the car down and just talking to me just made me a lot more calm than I would have been without him.”
Three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves recorded a fast lap of 217.923 mph in the No. 3 Shell V-Power Pennzoil Ultra Dallara/Chevrolet, the 12th-fastest lap of opening day.
The Brazilian driver will attempt to tie the record of four career Indy victories when the famed race gets underway May 26 and he is one of seven drivers to have won Indy three times. A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Team Penske advisor Rick Mears share the record of four victories.
"It felt really good to be back in the Shell-Pennzoil Chevrolet here at Indy. It's always a special feeling when you take the track for the first time,” said Castroneves, who spent the first practice session shaking down the No. 2 IZOD Team Penske Chevy to prepare for Allmendinger’s rookie orientation.
“We were able to shakedown the No. 2 IZOD car for AJ and do the same for our car which is what we wanted to accomplish. AJ did a great job today, it was really fun being a part of the Rookie Orientation process with him, and I look forward to having him as a teammate here."
Will Power was clocked at 217.595 mph in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet, good for 14th-fastest of the six-hour session. Power, who finished 28th in 2012 after Mike Conway’s car made contact with him, is looking for his first victory at the historic 2.5-mile speedway.
"It was a good opening day for the Verizon team, we were able to shakedown the car and everything feels good,” said Power, who enters the race looking for his first win of 2013. “It's obviously a long couple weeks and we are taking this step by step to be where we need to be for the race."
As has become a Team Penske tradition, Castroneves was first on track Saturday, leaving the pits in Allmendinger’s car at 12:08 p.m. It marked the fourth consecutive year that a Team Penske car was first on track for opening day.
Allmendinger appreciated what the veteran Team Penske driver provided him as he began his first practice session.
“It’s meant a lot for him to help me. You know, he could have easily just went and drove the car and said it was fine and walked away and focused on his program," said Allmendinger of Castroneves.
"But he’s here, talking to me. When we are back in the pits and he is showing me, teaching me and just talking to me. My teammates here, Will and Helio, they’ve been amazing since I showed up, and I feel very fortunate to have them.”
Teams will continue practicing each day through Friday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Pole qualifying is scheduled to begin Saturday at 11 a.m. ET. It will be televised live by NBC Sports Network, which also will air a special preview Friday at 3:30 p.m.
ABC’s race broadcast is set to begin at noon on Sunday, May 26.