IZOD IndyCar Series, Firestone Indy Lights and Mazda Road to Indy headlines

1. AJ Allmendinger and Tim Cindric conference call2. Munoz shies away from Firestone Indy Lights title favorite label3. Karam officially joins Schmidt Peterson Motorsports4. ArmsUp Motorsports enters USF2000 opener with four-driver lineup1. Earlier today, Team Penske president Tim Cindric and AJ Allmendinger participated in the conference call to discuss his driving the Chevrolet-powered No. 2 IZOD car for Team Penske in at least two races for the 2013 season (Indianapolis 500 and Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama). Allmendinger will be classified as a rookie for Indianapolis and will participate April 11 in the Rookie Orientation Program at the Speedway.Selected quotes from the interview:Q: Tim, 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. At that point it was really a matter of closing the deal with Mike (Kelly, executive vice president of the PVH Marketing Group) and the guys at IZOD.They had said, 'Hey, we would 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.

Q: AJ, talk about your thoughts about this opportunity with Team Penske and the chance to race in the Indianapolis 500.AJ ALLMENDINGER: For me, there's a ton of different emotions. Excitement is definitely one of them. 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.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.Q:  At the Sebring test, Tim intimated that if Penske could put AJ in a car full time, they would need a greater commitment. If the schedule does stand, would you have to step away from NASCAR on open weekends to commit to more of a full‑time schedule?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 time 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.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.2. Munoz shies away from Firestone Indy Lights title favorite label: Andretti Autosport's Carlos Munoz is the only current Firestone Indy Lights driver to have won a race in the series, but he isn't ready to declare himself the favorite to win the 2013 championship."I don't see myself as the guy to beat at St. Pete or for the championship," he said. "I just want to my work as best as I can - my work with my engineer, my physical preparation and my mental preparation. If I do that well, the results will come."The 21-year-old Colombian, who will attempt to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 in a fifth car from Andretti Autosport, won a pair of races and a pole en route to a fifth-place finish in the standings in 2012.He turned the fastest Firestone Indy Lights lap on the 1.67-mile Sebring International Raceway short course (55.9405 seconds) during the morning session of the second day of the Open Test after setting the fastest lap March 7."He's quick, but he has an extra year in the car that a lot of us don't," said Zach Veach, Munoz's teammate, who also ran a lap quicker than Munoz's fast lap from March 7. "But we both have good cars and it's really close among all the cars here."Though Munoz may not consider himself the favorite, many of his competitors are using his car as a benchmark during testing."We're concentrating on our own work, and we didn't show everything yesterday," said Belardi Auto Racing's Peter Dempsey. "But at the same time you do look at everyone else's time to make sure you do have a good benchmark."Firestone Indy Lights teams will have another Open Test March 11 at Barber Motorsportrs Park in preparation for the season opener March 23 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.3. Karam officially joins Schmidt Peterson Motorsports: Sage Karam has been nurtured throughout his racing career by Andretti Autosport, but the 18-year-old driver is spreading his wings to compete in Firestone Indy Lights in 2013.Karam, who finished third in the Star Mazda Championship in 2012, has joined Schmidt Peterson Motorsports alongside Jack Hawksworth and Gabby Chaves for the 12-race season that begins March 23 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. He made his first appearance with the team during an Open Test at Sebring International Raceway on March 7-8 and will participate in an Open Test on March 11 at Barber Motorsports Park."We've been watching Sage throughout the entire Mazda Road to Indy ladder and he has excelled in both USF2000 and Pro Mazda, so we have high expectations for his first year in Firestone Indy Lights," team co-owner Sam Schmidt said. "Age is always something to consider, but from what we've seen in Sage's recent racing seasons, he is mature beyond his years in the car. He has knowledge of many of the circuits we'll be racing at this year, so from that standpoint he won't be a pure rookie."Karam, from Nazareth, Pa., was drawn to SPM because of its consistency in winning Firestone Indy Lights championships (three in a row and six overall)."We just couldn't get a deal done with Andretti for Indy Lights, but I'm happy to be with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports," Karam said. "They've won a lot of titles in the series, so it's almost a no-brainer to want to race for them. I believe SPM will give me the best possible chance of winning."Karam, who claimed the USF2000 title and a Mazda Road to Indy scholarship in 2010, won five races over the past two seasons in Star Mazda. He said he's ready for the challenges in Firestone Indy Lights."It's a whole new series for me, and I'm trying to learn about the Firestone Indy Lights car," he said. "But at the same time, I'm also learning to work with a new team. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports is a great team to be a part of, and it's good to come into a car that's already developed. I'm just working on adapting my driving style to the car and get up to speed with the fast guys."4. ArmsUp Motorsports enters USF2000 opener with four-driver lineup: Wisconsin-based ArmsUp Motorsports announced it will enter the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda season with a four-driver lineup.Competing full time will be James Dayson, Felipe Donato and Andrew Hobbs. Joining the team for two events will be Tim Paul.  "We've got a strong group of racers who are dedicated to learning, developing and earning those podium finishes," team owner Gregg Borland said. "The 2013 season looks to be very competitive, and we're feeling confident in our team." Dayson, of Canada, ran a partial USF200 season in 2012 with ArmsUp Motorsports, and went on to win the National Class Championship in the 2012 Winter Fest. First-year drivers Donato, 18, is from Brazil and Hobbs, 18, is from Milwaukee.

Paul, 28, will bring his own race team, Screaming Monkey Racing, to ArmsUp Motorsports for the rounds at Sebring and St. Petersburg this month. Paul earned nine top-10 finishes and finished sixth in the USF2000 championship standings in 2012.

***The 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series season opens with the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg March 24 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. The race will be televised live at noon (ET) by the NBC Sports Network (Verizon FiOS 90/590, DirecTV 220, DISH 159 and AT&T UVerse 640) and broadcast by the IMS Radio Network, on SiriusXM and www.indycar.com. The 2013 Firestone Indy Lights season begins March 23 on the streets of St. Petersburg. The race will be broadcast by NBC Sports Network at 11 a.m. (ET) on March 24, immediately preceding the IZOD IndyCar Series race broadcast.