Three drivers who will be aiming to start the Indianapolis 500 for the first time in 2013 were on track on Wednesday to get a head start on getting used to oval racing by spending a day at Texas Motor Speedway.
AJ Allmendinger, Tristan Vautier and Carlos Munoz will all need to pass rookie orientation ahead of the start of May's Indy 500 build-up, and were keen to get an early feel for ovals with as much time as possible this week.
Schmidt-Peterson Motorsport's Tristan Vautier impressed at last weekend's season opener at St Peterburg, at least until his mid-race retirement for an exhaust failure; and he also has oval racing experience from winning the 2012 Firestone Indy Lights championship. But even so, the Frenchman admits that oval racing in an IZOD IndyCar Series DW12 is a whole new ballgame.
“Everything happens to you faster, but I think it feels that way when it's your first time in a new car on a new track until your brain gets used to it,” he said while getting up to speed at Texas this week.
NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Allmendinger is also no stranger to racing on ovals, but it's a very different style of racing in a stock car to the open-wheel IndyCars. And Allmendinger's pre-NASCAR experience in the Champ Car World Series seven years ago was also little help preparing him, he admitted.
"People assume back when I raced Champ Cars I did a lot of ovals, but I really only did Milwaukee so this is brand new for me," Allmendinger said. "I do have a little bit of track knowledge of knowing what the track does, but it's still a lot different.
"There's a lot of work I've got to do still, just to feel comfortable," he told the Associated Press
at Texas. "Feeling like I'm more on top of the car than the car is driving me is something I'm still fighting a lot ... It all feels like I'm a fish out of water, trying to figure out how to get around."
Allmendinger lost his regular NASCAR race seat with Penske Racing last season after failing a random drug test, but team owner Roger Penske stood by the 31-year-old Californian and tempted him back to open-wheel racing with a shot at the Indy 500. He'll also compete in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park next weekend as part of his preparations.
"There's a lot of pressure there, and I put a lot of it on myself," he admitted. "I don't want to go out there and waste anybody's time, and waste Roger's money."