Team Penske has expanded AJ Allmendinger's IndyCar schedule to include Long Beach. The move is aimed at helping the former Champ Car star reacquaint himself with open-wheel racecars ahead of his Indy 500 debut with the team in May.
Penske team president Tim Cindric had previously stated his hope that deals could be put together to give Allmendinger more races in the team's third car.
"We decided we needed to get AJ more seat time. As the emotions get into it and Roger (Penske)'s commitment to the organization, we don't want to go into Indianapolis any less prepared than we can be," Cindric explained Saturday. "AJ has continued to jell with the team and it's worth the investment for us to have him run at a place where he's already run. (Barber) is a whole different place for him, and the effort you need to find that couple of tenths (of a second) is maybe different than a place like Long Beach where he's already comfortable and it's just a matter of learning the car. He's learning the car here and he's learning the track."
Allmendinger, whose appearance at this weekend's IndyCar race at Barber is his first in a single-seater since he left Champ Car for NASCAR at the end of 2006, has admitted that he still feels the he has not unlocked all of the speed in the IndyCar.
"I'm a little bit sore and still holding my breath a little bit in the fast corner, but it's good so far," said Allmendinger, who added about his Long Beach opportunity, "It's the same layout at least. It's not an oval, but it's more time in the car with pit stops. It's exciting; I've always missed that race since I left. Being a California native it was always a fun race to go to. Just to have another race under my belt at a place I've fairly familiar with I'm looking forward to it."
Cindric would not be drawn on what additional races Allmendinger might run for the team.
"You put the plans in place and they you have to make the decision whether to pull the plug or not. We won't run him at Brazil, so it will be Long Beach and then Indianapolis, and we'll see after that," said Cindric, who noted that the the Long Beach deal did not come about via additional sponsorship. "We'll probably end up with a Penske affiliate of some kind. We're open to sponsors."
Cindric pronounced himself pleased with Allmendinger's progression at Barber. "There are sections of this (Barber) track where he's actually better than (Will Power and Helio Castroneves) and they're able to feed off that," Cindric said. "The fortunate thing is he has the first pit here, so he can focus on pulling in and out. We just want him to get laps; he's not racing for points. Anything you can do here will help in the future."