To say it was worth the wait would be a massive understatement for Jimmie Johnson.
Today the seven-time NASCAR Cup champion was finally able to strap into an IndyCar for the first time, testing on the road course of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. After his initial testing plans were nixed due to the outbreak of the coronavirus, a make-up date was scheduled just a couple of days after the Brickyard 400. Unfortunately for Johnson, he tested positive for the virus just before the race, and those plans were once again shuttered.
As the Hendrick Motorsports driver said on Tuesday, the third time was the charm. Johnson climbed into Felix Rosenqvist’s No. 10 Honda machine with Chip Ganassi Racing. Not only did he have the guidance of Chip, Mike Hull, and the entire Ganassi team, but Scott Dixon was also on hand to give some advice and pointers throughout the day. The two drivers have combined for 996 race starts, 132 race wins, and 12 championships over the course of their careers.
The day started out okay, but there were a couple of spins and off-road excursions into the grass. That is to be expected, given it was Jimmie’s first time in the cockpit of the open-wheel machine. By the end of the day, he had completed 120 laps and used up five sets of Firestone tires.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Dixon told RACER magazine. “Tough conditions. Really low-grip — obviously very hot today, but it gives him a good feel what the car is like. Through the course of the day, it’s been fun just to talk back and forth about what things are different for him; what’s quite similar; driving style; and a lot of video content that we can go through to help him, just because what he typically does is so different from what we do.”
“That was incredible,” Johnson said in a social media post. “Today more than exceeded my expectations. Sign me up for more!”
As for the lap times, CGR managing director Mike Hull expressed his opinion to RACER on the topic. “We had 135 degrees for track temperature and no rubber down, so it’s not a fair comparison to what happened on the GMR Grand Prix weekend. But his lap times were pretty significant considering he’d never driven an IndyCar before. He spun a couple of times, but harmlessly, trying to learn how deep you can brake into a corner.”
The fun continued after the test concluded, when IMS President Doug Boles presented the four-time Brickyard 400 winner with some nice memorabilia.
Johnson is set to retire from full-time racing in NASCAR after this season. He has publicly stated that he would be open to racing on road and street courses in IndyCar next season with a preference of Long Beach. He also opened the door to possibly racing the Indianapolis 500 after evaluating the recent performance of the aeroscreen in IndyCar. Though today’s test was with Ganassi, there are multiple teams that Johnson would consider joining.
“I want to do this more than ever before,” Johnson said in a telephone interview with the Associated Press. “It was something new, something different. NASCAR has been so good to me and I am so proud of the success I’ve had. But to try something new, man, this was really cool. Hopefully today was the day to create a springboard,” Johnson said. “The more I can be in a garage, the more excitement I can generate, the better chances.”
Johnson told the Associated Press that 2022 is probably the earliest he could consider expanding his schedule.
Photo Credit: Chris Owens