AJ Allmendinger admitted that he had a lot of work to do in re-adapting to the requirements of the car after spending so long in the NASCAR Sprint Cup. The 31-year-old returned to the cockpit of a open-wheeler for the first time in more than six years on Tuesday when he joined Team Penske for an IndyCar test at Sebring.
Allmendinger was a five-time race winner in Champ Car before switching to stock cars in late 2006, although he was suspended by NASCAR and released by Penske Racing after testing positive for a banned substance last summer. Having completed the Road to Recovery program, he was reinstated in September, and invited to test with Penske with a view to potentially racing the team's third car at Barber Motorsports Park and the Indianapolis 500.
"My heart was beating fast and [in] the first couple of runs the car was definitely driving me," said Allmendinger, who was 12th fastest on unofficial timing, 0.7sec off the pace.
Allmendinger was a five-time race winner in Champ Car before switching to stock cars in late 2006 "It slowly has come back to me. Everything feels real fast," he added. "A Cup car has more horsepower but, because of its weight, that sensation of speed is a lot different. When you get in an IndyCar on a road course, it feels like it has 1500 horsepower."
Allmendinger said that he had been made to feel welcome by the team's full-time drivers Will Power and Helio Castroneves, and paid tribute to team owner Roger Penske for giving him a second chance.
"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 for giving me this opportunity.
"After what I went through last year, to have Roger ask me to come here and drive one of his racecars... '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."