AJ Allmendinger has been reacquainting himself with an open wheel race car at Sebring International Raceway this week, driving the #2 Penske IndyCar in the first pre-season test session of 2013.
"My heart was beating fast and the first couple of runs the car was definitely driving me," admitted Allmendinger. "It slowly has come back to me. Everything feels real fast."
He was joined in chilly conditions at the Florida test circuit by the other two confirmed Penske drivers Will Power and Helio Castroneves, as well as Ganassi team mates Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti and Charlie Kimball together with seven other of the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series drivers.
"Will and Helio have welcomed me into their race team with open arms and I'm definitely happy to be here," said Allemendinger, who also got to meet IndyCar icon AJ Foyt at the track for the first time. "It was an honour to meet the person I was named after, one of the greatest drivers of all time."
Allmendinger drove in the Champ Car World Series from 2004 until 2007 when he switched to stock car racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship. He was competing for Roger Penske's Cup team in 2012 when he failed a random drugs test mid-season and was suspended from competition until he completed the mandatory Road to Recovery program.
Although he was fired from the Penske team, Allmendinger has since returned to NASCAR competition with four races at the end of 2012, and Roger Penske himself has remained supportive throughout and now seems set to back a possible Indianapolis 500 outing for Allmendinger in IndyCar - if the driver can readjust to the open wheel equipment, that is.
"A Cup car has more horsepower, but because of its weight that sensation of speed is a lot different," Allmendinger explained. "When you get an IndyCar on a road course, it feels like it has 1,500 horsepower," he said, adding that an IndyCar was much more physically demanding to drive than a Cup car.
The first step of the process of seeing whether Allmendinger is up to driving in the Indy 500 was to take part in the first track test of 2013, and he posted the 12th fastest time of the 13 drivers in action on Tuesday.
Even so, that was just a creditable 0.6s slower than the fastest man on track on the day, which was Takuma Sato in the #14 AJ Foyt Racing car. Sato's best lap of the day was 51.947s while Allmendinger's best effort was 52.618s, just ahead of Oriol Servia who was slowest of those taking part in an unwieldy-looking Panther-DRR car.