Jimmie Johnson finally fulfilled his childhood dream of driving an Indy car with a test session on Tuesday. When the seven-time NASCAR champion finished turning laps, he sold himself out to find out how to compete next year in the IndyCar Series.
“It just kindled the fire more. I want to do this more than ever before, ”Johnson said in a phone 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 have had. But trying something new, man, this was really cool. “
Johnson initially thought his racing career would take him to IndyCar, the series he followed as a child, but the path turned to NASCAR. He has put together one of the most successful races in series history, but the 44-year-old will retire from NASCAR competition full time at the end of this season.
However, he will not stop competing, and Johnson has already put in place a plan that he hopes will lead him to some IndyCar events next year. An initial test with McLaren was canceled when sports closed in the first part of the COVID-19 pandemic; Johnson’s positive coronavirus test earlier this month boosted a test with Chip Ganassi Racing through Tuesday.
Even when he was heading to Indianapolis Motor Speedway earlier in the day, he was concerned that something would spoil his long-awaited opportunity.
“The third time was a charm, but I was worried something might curse him,” he said.
Nothing spoiled his day, which Johnson compared to a “first day of school.” He drove the same car that Felix Rosenqvist raced on the Indy circuit earlier this month and had five-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon as his driver trainer.
“It was very impressive. There was no attempt to do too much, “Dixon told AP. “He was texting me last night, asking me all kinds of questions, if there were tricks to get out of the pits, how to handle a turn, that sort of thing.” I was super amplified and excited to finally get there. ”
It was a very busy session for Johnson, who was trying to learn the car while also testing new cabin cooling advancements for the series. Ganassi’s team had five sets of tires for the session, and with the track temperature near 140 degrees, the degradation occurred quickly.
Johnson also spun twice during the day: once in the first corner of the circuit when he had too much rear brake and a second time in the fourth corner when he had just lost the car. He prided himself on keeping it off the grass both times, but saw an already limited tire allocation.
“At the end of the day, they were mixed combination tires, which gave me mixed sets, just to allow me to do more laps,” Johnson said.
Johnson had previously said that this test would determine if chasing IndyCar was worth it, he had joked that he would quickly know if he was good at it, and after nearly eight hours with Ganassi’s team, he was not discouraged.
“When I got in the car, it took two sessions for my eyes to adjust. Things came to me pretty quickly, ”Johnson said. “Just before lunch, we started to find a rhythm. At the beginning of the day, I was finding large fragments, but the track was going as my skill increased. “
Dixon was impressed with Johnson’s ability to process information and apply comments, particularly because he is one of the most successful NASCAR drivers in history. Dixon said it was difficult to assess Johnson’s pace because the track was green and the temperatures were very high, but he estimated Johnson was running similarly to how the series’ regulars were earlier this month in “the middle to late stage of the race we had. ” But you don’t have a point of reference. He is a great unknown.
“For a man who has done what he did, he was still very excited,” Dixon said. “His passion for competing and trying something different was the typical Jimmie, as applied to himself. He is never aggressive. He constantly asks questions, how to be better, how do I do this.
“He was really methodical, he was very good at copying things and he was really adaptable, which is not always easy, especially at our age.”
Johnson still hopes to test McLaren later this year and is determined to participate in road or street racing in 2021. He has softened his stance toward Indianapolis 500 and oval races due to IndyCar security advancements, but He said Tuesday that 2022 is probably the earliest he could consider expanding his hours.
He also noted that his future at IndyCar depends on finding sponsorship and he hoped that a successful first trial would spark conversations about funding.
“Hopefully today is the day to create a springboard,” said Johnson. “The more I can be in a garage, the more excitement I can generate, the better opportunities.”
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