AJ Allmendinger met with the media at Barber Motorsports Park ahead of this week's IndyCar Open test at the Alabama road course, to compare his No. 2 IZOD Dallara for Chevrolet with his NASCAR experiences, among other topics.
HOW DIFFERENT IS THIS CAR FROM THE LAST INDYCAR THAT YOU DROVE IN TERMS OF POWER AND DOWNFORCE?
“Well, it's a lot different than what I've been driving for the last seven years, I can tell you that. After I drove it at Sebring I was like, ‘Maybe it will all come back natural to me.' It felt like I was riding a unicycle. I almost forget what it feels like to drive a Champ car -- it's been so long.
The cars, they're definitely fun to drive. They have a ton of grip. I think the biggest thing for me is just the braking force of these cars and just everything in general. The G-force, trying to get used to that again. Stock car racing, training, you're working on just that mental aspect of being in a car for four hours in the heat, especially during the summer and that wearing on you and being able to be strong enough for that. There's a not a lot of racetracks physically where you get worn out, at least for me. Bristol maybe a little bit, Dover, but physically overall you're not just drained after a race. In IndyCar, obviously, it's physically demanding. I think for me, that's the biggest thing is trying to get back into that and that kind of mentality of how to train for that and just to get used to that in general again.
The car overall, once I got up to speed with it, it felt good. The biggest thing is it felt a little heavier in the back so when the thing kind of starts to sway you get in the corner and it gets loose -- it almost feels like a little bit of a pendulum kind of swinging behind you. That was the biggest thing that I noticed.”
IS IT DIFFICULT TO GO BETWEEN THE STOCK CAR TO THE INDY CAR AND EVEN SPORTS CAR RACING?
“I was a little nervous getting back in the Cup car at Phoenix because I hadn't driven one of the new cars and I hadn't been in a stock car for over four months. Phoenix, obviously being a short track, it's not as critical to get up to speed, you kind of ease your way into it. I kind of got up to speed pretty quick. I think it's going to be more of a transition getting back to the Indy car every time than going from the Indy car back to the stock car. That's what makes it fun. That's what makes being a part of this just a challenge for me, because I'm challenging myself every week just to adapt to something new. If I didn't think I could do it, I wouldn't be here.
I'm excited about that and those chances to adapt back and forth. There's not a lot of drivers out there that can get to say that they've raced a sports car, they are going to race a stock car and they are going to go race an Indy car during the year. I'm excited about that.”
DID YOU EVER THINK YOU WOULD BE BACK IN INDYCAR?
“I've learned in life that you just take everything as it comes. You take one day at a time and you don't say no to anything and you expect everything to happen. Did I think it would happen like this? No, but I love the IndyCar Series. It's not like I left and stopped watching. I've still got a lot of friends in this series and I think this series has a lot of great things to offer. If it can just get put together the right way and go in the right direction, there's a lot of great things. Last year, I watched as many races as I could. It's some of the best Indy car racing I've ever seen and to have the championship come down to the end like it did... It's fun to watch and to be a part of and there's so many great drivers in it.
"For myself, putting myself against some of the best in the world and I know that's going to be a lot of hard work. I don't expect to just come in and dominate. It's going to be a lot of hard work. These guys are the best for a reason. I love the challenge and I'm excited to have this opportunity. I feel honored to have this opportunity. I'm going to do everything I can to make it right.”
WHY DO YOU THINK THE NASCAR FAN DOESN'T SEE WHAT A GREAT PRODUCT INDYCAR IS?
“I think it's just got to be marketed better. I just don't know if they [NASCAR fans] see it, honestly. That's part of the problem. If it's able to be marketed better, that's what over the last several years NASCAR has done. They made sure that they marketed their drivers and told their stories -- good or bad. Especially in life now, that's what people are drawn to. This series has got a great American champion with RHR (Ryan Hunter-Reay) and to see what he did last year to win the championship and have that, that story needs to be told.
"A guy like Will Power that has probably been the fastest man in the series the last couple of years and for whatever reason it hasn't happened as a championship, but those types of stories are what need to be told and I think it's not that people see it and they're just not attracted to it. I just don't think they see it. If we can market it better, the series can be strong. It's not that in the U.S. or North America that there's only room for one racing series -- there's plenty of room for a lot of racing series. It needs to be a strong open-wheel series and I just think it needs to be marketed better and if the series is able to do that then people are going to watch.
"There's so many great venues to go to. There's so many different types of venues. If you're an oval fan, you're going to see oval racing. If you love street course, there's a lot of great street course races. We're at one of the best pure open-wheel, motorcycle, whatever type of road course you want to call it -- we're here. There's something for everybody. It just needs to be marketed and shown better.”
IN MAKING THE TRANSITION BACK TO INDYCAR FROM STOCK CAR RACING, DID YOU USE THE DALLARA SIMULATOR IN ITALY?
“No, this is all just happening one day at a time. The most help I've gotten is from Helio (Castroneves) and from Will (Power) and from the race team. I'm just piecing it together as it comes.”
WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU WERE ON AN OVAL IN AN OPEN-WHEEL CAR?
DID YOU RACE THREE TIMES IN MILWAUKEE AND IN LAS VEGAS?
“Three times in Milwaukee and two in Vegas. One or two in Vegas. Plenty of oval experience. I got this.
"I'm not going to lie, I roll out onto pit lane in Indy, there's going to be some nerves there. I'm going to be a little nervous because I've been told that I'm not allowed to brake at the end of the straightaway. Actually they told me I could, they just said I would be really slow if I did that. There's definitely some nerves, there's some unknown there. Road course racing, I'll adapt to it pretty quick and hopefully get up to speed. It's going to take a little bit at Indy. Fortunately enough it's Indy, so we have plenty of time to get rolling.
"I'm with the best team so I think there's a couple of people that know how to get around there pretty well at the Penske organization. There is a guy named Rick Mears, he's not bad I heard. There's a lot of banners up inside the Penske garage and in the shop, it seems pretty good. There is a guy named Helio (Castroneves), he seems pretty good. Will (Power) is a big help to me because he was in Champ Car when I raced so he can kind of describe to me what it was like coming to Indy for the first time from the old cars and what to expect. There's a lot of people that are going to help me and I feel fortunate for that.”