Just days after the announcement of his deal with Dragon Racing putting him in an IZOD IndyCar for this year's centennial Indianapolis 500, Scott Speed was behind the wheel and getting to know how an oval looks from the cockpit of an open wheel racing car, as his new Dragon Racing team put him out on track at a private test at Chicagoland Speedway on Monday.
"It was very cool to get back into the groove of a high-downforce car that has more buttons on the steering wheel than one," said Speed, referring to his more recent times on ovals in a NASCAR stock car. "There is nothing like running around at over a 210 mph average."
Speed's signing for the Indy 500 race has raised eyebrows among motor racing fans and experts, who point out that Speed had always seemed resolutely disinterested in pursuing a career in IndyCar before last week. He spent much of his formative years in the sport in Europe, single-mindedly pursuing a seat in F1 by working his way up through British Formula Three, Formula Renault 2000 Eurocup, German Formula Renault and GP2 before finally getting that coveted seat at Toro Rosso for 28 Grand Prixs in 2006-7.
When that dream went sour and Speed returned to the United States, he still wasn't interested in IndyCar and instead followed the more lucrative path to NASCAR, but that also came to a finish at the end of 2010 when he had to make way for Brian Vickers who was returning to the Red Bull team from a year's medical leave. Speed has a $6.5m lawsuit ongoing against Red Bull as a result of his dismissal.
Since then, Speed has been looking for a new challenge - including finally taking a look at IndyCar and at the historic Indianapolis 500 race. And it seems to be rubbing off on him.
"I'm super-excited to go to Indy," he said. "Indy is the most-recognizable race in the world and I'm really lucky to get into a solid ride this year [with Dragon.] To be sitting in the position we are in a solid ride for the Indianapolis 500 is awesome."
Speed has competed on the oval circuit before in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series, where Indianapolis hosts the Brickyard 400. He also took part in the now-defunct US Grand Prix when it was held at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but the track configuration was very different for F1 and consisted of a twisty in-field section and only a small part of the banked oval circuit being used - and then in the reverse direction from how it's normally used in IndyCar.
That means he's got a lot to learn despite his previous history at IMS and on American ovals in stock cars, and he's the first to admit it.
"The more I'm getting into this now that I've done some laps, I'm starting to realize what a steep learning curve is ahead of me and that's what is exciting." the 28-year-old Californian said. "I'll try to be a sponge and soak up as much information as possible."