INDY RACING LEAGUE MEDIA CONFERENCE
March 8, 2013INDIANA SPORTS PAGE
THE MODERATOR: Welcome everyone to today's IndyCar conference call.
Earlier today, Team Penske announced that AJ Allmendinger will drive the No. 2 IZOD Team Penske Chevrolet in the IZOD IndyCar Series events at Barber Motorsports Park, and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, of cures, the Indianapolis 500.
AJ will also be participating in next week's IZOD IndyCar Series open test at Barbers Motorsports Park part of our Media Day activities. We are pleased to be joined by Tim Cindric, president of Penske Racing and AJ Allmendinger.
Gentlemen, thank you for joining us today.
Tim, I know it was a few weeks ago that AJ did his first test in an IZOD IndyCar Series car at Sebring and just a few weeks later, you have a limited schedule with a potential for more events. Can you talk a little about how the deal with AJ progressed from the test to today?
TIM CINDRIC: Obviously it was on the horizon of putting something together and the test gave us a good way to introduce AJ to what a modern?day IndyCar is, anyway. At that point it was really a matter of closing the deal with Mike and the guys at IZOD.
They had said, hey, they would like be to be interested to run the Indy 500 again and possibly another race or so, and we talked about drivers and we felt like at this point, when we looked at it, AJ was the first driver that came to mind. Mike was all for it and off we went.
THE MODERATOR: Talk about the discussions you had with Mr.Penske about bringing AJ back this year.
TIM CINDRIC: Sure, I think it's all well documented to the point which AJ signed with us and the point at which Sam got in the car. I think that's all been talked about. Really the next steps were for AJ to worry about AJ, and you know, he was able to obviously do that.
And as we looked at opportunities going forward, it's something that Roger and I talked about, even before we signed AJ to drive our stock car, was that he would be somebody that could get in an IndyCar and be very competitive from the beginning.
So we felt like if he was in our team, there was that opportunity at some point in time. Obviously we didn't look at it to play out that way, but it was something that it wasn't a new idea, I guess when we had it this time.
THE MODERATOR: AJ, first, welcome back to open?wheel racing, and can you talk about your thoughts about this opportunity with Team Penske and the chance to race in the Indianapolis 500.
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: For me, there's a ton of different emotions. Excitement is definitely one of them.
And you know, I look at more than anything, the fact that Roger Penske himself made the phone call and wanted me back in one of his race cars, and whether it's an IndyCar, or a stock car or sports car or whatever; to me, just that phone call itself means more than getting in the race car. That just shows me that, a, he believes in me, he's got confidence in me, and he still wants me to be a part of this family through everything I've been through, and everything honestly I've put him and his organization through.
So that's been for me just confidence building and puts me at ease for everything I went through and worked hard to get to has been worth something. As a person I'm a lot better for what I went through, I'm going to be a lot better physically, mentally, emotionally, everything to be in a race car and to have IZOD come aboard and they have been such a great supporter of the IndyCar Series itself. But for them to come back on board and say: AJ, we want to be a part of him and we want him to be a part of us, that's just huge.
I'm excited and I'm ready to go. I know there's a lot of work to get through before we ever get to Indianapolis and get to the Speedway. There's a test in Birmingham, a race in Birmingham, an oval test that we will do eventually, it's a step?by?step process and that's the way I look at life right now, I just take it one day at a time. The excitement is, there's so many words to describe it, but it's a great feeling.
THE MODERATOR: You've already showed your versatility in cars this year, finished third in the Rolex 24, did your first Sprint Cup race last weekend and now you're getting ready to race IndyCars. Obviously all the cars are different, but what do you have to do to prepare yourself to switch driving an open?wheel car?
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: I mean, it's just?? there's a lot that goes into it and going back and forth between a Cup car and IndyCar, which I'll be doing right now, there's a lot that goes into it.
But you know, for me, all I can do is be physically and mentally prepared for whatever race car that I'm getting in, whether that's looking at data or video or back at the shop, whichever shop that is, just doing that, that's all I can do.
And once I get to the racetrack and just be focused on the job at hand and taking care of, you know, what are the differences and similarities in everything.
Once I get to that racetrack, that's the race vehicle that I'm in. It all starts at home with preparation and I feel like I'm in a good state of mind to be able to do that, whatever race car I'm racing that weekend.
So I feel very fortunate that guys like Roger Penske and James Finch and Michael Shank and those types of people still want me in their race cars and want me to be a part of their organization. I feel very fortunate that I have all of these opportunities.
Q. What does this do for your NASCAR schedule for 2013?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Doesn't change it. I'll be at Bristol next weekend and be at Fontana the weekend after. And then, you know, through that, the same thing that I've told James Finch and a good thing that Roger and James, they are close friends, and they have been discussing this process, as well.
So it doesn't change anything. It just adds to the things that I was already planning on. So with James, I just kind of left it open. I told him, I'll drive his race car whenever I can and whenever he wants me to, and if that conflicts with an IndyCar race, then obviously I can't do it.
I know the situation that James is in and working on sponsorship, and the better that the organization runs, and they have had such a great start the first couple of weeks, it helps everybody. I told him I'm there when he wants me to drive his race car. If somebody brings sponsorship and they are in the car that week, then great. And if not, and he wants me in his race car, I'll drive it. It really doesn't change anything.
Q. How big is this in the sense that there's a major company sponsoring you and what do you think this will tell other sponsors or potential sponsors, because obviously that's a huge part of the whole racing game.
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: Yeah, it's great to have such a huge company like IZOD want to be branded with me and vice versa. So, that's a good thing.
But I don't think it says anything to any other companies. People are going to make their decisions on how they feel about em and what I went through, good or bad. I think it doesn't change the next company from wanting to be with me or not wanting to be with me because one company does.
All I can do is do everything that I've done, go through the process, keep preparing, keep talking about it, being open about everything that I went through and know that I'm better for it. You know, throughout this whole process, I've learned that all I can do is control myself, and be ready.
So whether that helps more companies want to be a part of me, I don't know, but I just know this opportunity is one amazing one.
Q. What's the status of Long Beach?
TIM CINDRIC: We are working on Long Beach. We would like to do that. Obviously we need a sponsor behind it.
And we would like to like to try and understand how we prepare for Indy the best way we can, and what happens there; understanding the rookie orientation process here at Indy where he's going to have to run for a day and that could possibly happen sometime in April, as well as another oval test. Combining that with his NASCAR commitments, we wanted to make sure that if we did get the opportunity to go to Long Beach, that we could do all those things the right way.
Q. Could you elaborate on the background, from the time you were cognizant of who Roger Penske was, that it had been a dream for you to drive for the captain?
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: It's something last year that as I signed the deal, as Tim was saying, about possibly looking at me and when they signed me, you never know about running IndyCars and jumping in that. You know, that was something that was a bonus when I signed with Roger last year. I thought, the opportunity, who knows how it's going to come about, and maybe it will, maybe it won't.
But to be able to run in Indy and an IndyCar forum was always a dream come true. So I didn't expect it to go, and get through it like this the way the process went through, but I just know that rolling out?? I have good emotions right now. But rolling out on pit lane for the first time once we get here in May is going to be something that I'll never forget and forget that feeling and something that nobody could take away from me.
So I just feel privileged and fortunate that Roger still has got the confidence in me to want me to go do this and the whole organization itself. That to me is more than actually getting out in the race car.
Q. At the Sebring test, Tim intimated that if Penske could put AJ in a car full?time, they would need a greater commitment. I guess the question would be if the schedule does stand, would you have to step away from NASCAR on open weekends, to commit to more of a full?timeschedule?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: I'm looking at whatever the best opportunity is out there for me, whatever series that is, whatever best chance of it, I have to go out there and win races and enjoy racing and just have fun.
But it's Roger Penske. If there's something full tile there, I would be dumb to turn it down and say no. If this leads to more races or full?time thing, that would be fantastic. I would love that but it's one step at a time now, and that's how I look at it and we'll see how it goes.
Q. Is that how you guys are looking at it, if this expands to a full?time opportunity, would then AJ sort of be asked to focus just solely on IndyCar?
TIM CINDRIC: First of all, I don't foresee it this year, unless something falls out of the sky, that it becomes a full?time situation, but we would certainly like to put something together there. Is that realistic for this year? I'm not sure.
So our focus really is what's going to happen between now and Indy and whether or not we put ourselves in a position to add possibly Long Beach to that schedule but beyond that, really focusing on this test at Barber and the Barber event and getting ready for Indy. Because Indy, for him to be ready here, I don't think you're ever ready for Indy, but I think we need to give him the best shot we can, and we need to go test somewhere on an oval before we get here.
Q. Are you guys still looking at Texas? Is that a possibility for that test?
TIM CINDRIC: Yeah, probably Texas or Fontana are the best places to get the realistic speed, although they are obviously different. Yeah, I would say Texas would be our first choice and Fontana would be our second.
Q. Could you give us a little insight as to the challenges and the opportunities that come up now, especially on the communications side between yourself and the team and AJ and car setup and race strategy and the transition now from stock car to IndyCar?
TIM CINDRIC: The fortunate thing is he's been through a lot of the mentality with that with open?wheel racing; it isn't new to him. Fortunately, it's not as though you're training a NASCAR driver to come to IndyCar racing. He's been there, done that for the most part.
I think it really has to do with all the little things and the details, and I think he's had the opportunity to spend some time with our guys at Sebring and the group that he worked with there at Sebring is quite a few of those guys are ones that are going to be on his crew. He's got a bit of a head start on that front.
But I don't think until you get into the competition side of it that you're really going to explain enough to get it all to sink in, when it comes to these different tire rules and that type of thing, Reds versus Blacks, qualifying lineup on a road or street course, then obviously Indy is different all together.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you for your time today.