Penske confirms Allmendinger Indy 500 entry
8 March 2013
In a news conference at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Team Penske has formally announced that it will field an entry for NASCAR Sprint Cup driver and former Champ Car World Series racer AJ Allmendinger in this year's Indianapolis 500 race.
Allmendinger will drive the #2 IZOD Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet entry and attempt to qualify for the 97th running of the race, scheduled for May 26. Prior to this, Penske will also enter Allmendinger into the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park at the start of April, in order to give Allmendinger some valuable extra current race experience in an open-wheel car.
"I think it's every driver's dream to race for Team Penske at the Indy 500 and that experience is going to be incredible," said the 31-year-old. "I also have to thank IZOD for their support and for giving me a chance to show what I can do. I definitely intend to make the most of it."
Allmendinger has already taken part in one pre-season test session with the team when he turned out at Sebring International Raceway in February, in what was his first turn in a open-wheel car since 2006. He'll get another chance behind the wheel at next week's IZOD IndyCar Series spring training test sessions at Barber, and will likely test for the first time on an oval at either Texas Motor Speedway or Auto Club Speedway, Fontana in late April.
Allmendinger has been competing in stock cars for the past six seasons, and in 2012 secured a seat with Roger Penske's NASCAR Sprint Cup operation. The team and driver parted company last summer after Allmendinger failed a random drugs test and was suspended from competition. He's since been reinstated after completing a mandatory rehabilitation program, and was back in competition again last weekend at Phoenix. However he's still to find a full-time Cup ride of the same calibre he enjoyed for the first part of last year.
More importantly, Roger Penske has continually been on Allmendinger's side and stood by the driver throughout, and he and team president Tim Cindric have been keen to give him a second chance even though there is no longer a spare seat in the NASCAR squad, which has led to this sideways step for Allmendinger into a début in the IZOD IndyCar Series in 2013.
“I have to thank Roger, Tim and everyone at Team Penske for this opportunity," said Allmendinger. "I'm really looking forward to getting back to my roots and racing in the IZOD IndyCar Series."
"It is exciting to welcome AJ back to Penske Racing," declared Roger Penske. "He obviously went through a tough time last year but he has done everything he needed to in order to get back to racing at the top level of the sport.
"We have always believed in AJ and his ability and he deserves this opportunity," he continued. "We think he will be a strong competitor this season in the IZOD IndyCar Series for Team Penske and we look forward to racing with him in the IZOD car at Barber and at the Indianapolis 500."
"Everyone at IZOD is proud to continue the brand's sponsorship of Team Penske in 2013 and we look forward to working with AJ as he makes his return to open-wheel racing," said Mike Kelly, the executive vice president of IZOD's parent company The PVH Marketing Group. "AJ is a great fit for the brand as he embodies IZOD's youthful and competitive American spirit.
"We hope to see the #2 IZOD Team Penske car take the checkered flag at Barber, and on racing's biggest stage at the Indianapolis 500 where we'd all love a storybook ending with AJ drinking the milk in Victory Lane," Kelly added.
Before he can do that, Allmendinger will need to complete the mandatory three-phase Rookie Orientation Program on the 2.5-mile speedway on April 11 before he can move into a week of practice sessions ahead of the Indy 500's unique qualifying system run over a full weekend on May 18/19.
The starting grid for the race is capped at 33 cars, so it's not a completely foregone conclusion that Allmendinger will actually make it onto the track for the green flag for the race. However, it's unlikely that more than 32 other cars will enter this year's event, so any completed qualifying laps should be enough to see him into the race itself.
"There aren't enough adjectives to describe how I feel: anxious, exciting, nervous," Allmendinger told the news conference. "I'm not going to lie, I'm going to be nervous as hell."
Allmendinger's last open wheel race was on October 21 2006 at Surfers Paradise in Australia, at the end of a Champ Car World Series season that saw him win five events in a partial nine-race season with Forsythe Racing, ultimately finishing in third place in that year's championship.
"He's easy to get along with. When I raced him, he was very fast," said Will Power, who also competed in Champ Cars that season and who will now be Allmendinger's team mate at Penske. "That year, had he started with Forsythe, he probably would have won the championship."
Although this year will see Allmendinger make his debut entry in the Indy 500, it's actually not the first time he will have competed at the Speedway: he has competed in four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at the Brickyard, with a best finish of 10th.
Even so, on his first outing at IMS in a stock car in 2007 his instinctive thought was to wonder, 'I wonder what it's like in an IndyCar?' - and now he's going to find out. "I've been told I'm not to hit the brakes when I get to the end of the front straightaway: the first challenge is going to be holding my foot down!"
The #2 car was driven in 2012 by Ryan Briscoe, who has now parted company with the team because of a lack of sponsorship funding for the entry for an entire season. Briscoe won pole position for last year's Indy 500 in the car and went on to finish in fifth place. For 2013, Allmendinger's race engineer will be Ron Ruzewski who is the team's technical director.
Before Friday's announcement, there had been speculation that Penske was about to unveil an even bigger involvement in the 2013 IndyCar season for Allmendinger than just the Indianapolis 500 and one warm-up event, and there's peculation that should the Indy campaign go well and the sponsorship money come together then Allmendinger could be back for more races later in the season.
At the Friday news conference, Penske Racing president Tim Cindric even agreed that it was the team's goal to undertake additional races with Allmendinger, but that they were not in a position to announce any more than the Barber and Indy outings at this point.
"Right now we've got two races for IZOD," said Cindric. "It's our goal to put together more races."