19 car/driver combos expected at IndyCar test in Texas

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A two-day IndyCar test session that begins tomorrow at Texas Motor Speedway will help set the aerodynamic options available to teams when the series returns to the 1.5-mile oval for the Firestone 600 in June.

19 different car and driver combinations are expected to take part in the test.

The track has reported tomorrow’s session will run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. local time (10 a.m. – 6 p.m. ET) and will be open to the public, albeit without access to the infield and garage areas.

Before last year’s IndyCar race at Texas, the low-downforce aero package was tweaked slightly to take away drag from the cars.

That increased the pressure on drivers to hang on and conserve their tires, and made for a race that was clean but somewhat lacking in excitement compared to past Texas races.

After that race, Ryan Hunter-Reay noted the series’ difficult job of getting the package correct with the downforce levels and the tires’ rate of falling off. We’ll see if this upcoming test will help in that regard.

The test could also be an eye-opening experience for some of the series’ rookies, like Andretti Autosport’s Carlos Munoz (who finished third last weekend at Long Beach), Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ Mikhail Aleshin, and Bryan Herta Autosport’s Jack Hawksworth.

Hawksworth has a solid run going at the Beach until he was collected in the Lap 54 crash triggered by Hunter-Reay’s contact with Josef Newgarden in Turn 4.

But now he’ll have to shift focus toward navigating Texas’ high banks. While the British racer has handled other high-speed ovals such as Indianapolis, Pocono, and Fontana, he did so in the markedly slower Indy Lights cars.

“I am looking forward to the test at Texas to see what one of these [IndyCars] is like on an oval,” he said recently. “I’ve never been to Texas before, so it will be interesting to see the layout. It looks unique for an oval, especially the ones I’ve been on.”

While he’s learned the proper line through video, Hawksworth still plans to lean on the advice of his team owner, Bryan Herta, and his other crewmates.

“There’s a really good bunch of guys on the team,” he said. “Bryan has a bunch of experience as a driver, and he’s available to give me advice about all kinds of circuits.

“The engineers and everybody are really helpful in getting me up to speed and help me as much as they can. The other part is just me getting on with it myself.”

Jimmie Johnson won’t race full time in 2023; leaves open possibility of returning at Ganassi

Jimmie Johnson race 2023
Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images
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Though he remains uncertain of his plans for next year, Jimmie Johnson won’t race full time in 2023, scaling back his schedule after running a full 17-race NTT IndyCar Series season.

“This was a difficult choice for me, but in my heart, I know it’s the right one,” Johnson said in a statement Monday morning. “I’m not exactly sure what the next chapter holds, but if an opportunity comes along that makes sense, I will consider it. I still have a bucket list of racing events I would like to take part in. Competing at this level in IndyCar has been such a great experience.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better team to race for than Chip Ganassi and Chip Ganassi Racing. Everyone worked extremely hard for the last two seasons, pushing to get the best performances out of me every single week. The support from my crew and teammates Dario (Franchitti), Scott (Dixon), Tony (Kanaan), Marcus (Ericsson) and Alex (Palou) went above and beyond anything I could have ever asked for.”

WHAT’S NEXT FOR JIMMIE JOHNSON: An analysis of his racing options for the 2023 season

Driving the No. 48 Dallara-Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing, Johnson ranked 21st in the 2022 points standings with a career-best fifth place July 24 at Iowa Speedway.

After running only road and street courses for Ganassi in 2021, the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion added ovals this year. In his Indy 500 debut, he qualified 12th and finished 28th after a late crash.

“I do have a desire to go back (to IndyCar), it’s just at this point, I know what’s required to do a full schedule, and I don’t have that in me,” Johnson told AP. “I don’t have that passion that I need for myself to commit myself to a full season.”

That leaves open the concept of Johnson returning part time with Ganassi, perhaps exclusively on ovals.

“We are fully supportive of Jimmie,” team owner Chip Ganassi said in a statement. “He has been a valued member of our team and if we can find a way to continue working together, we would like to do so.”

During IndyCar’s season finale race weekend, Johnson told reporters Sept. 9 that he planned to explore his options with wife Chandra and daughters Evie and Lydia. Johnson told the Associated Press that his family is considering living abroad for a year or two, and he has toyed with the idea of running in the World Endurance Championship sports car series because of its international locales.

Johnson hasn’t ruled out IndyCar, IMSA sports cars or even a cameo in NASCAR next year. Since retiring from full-time NASCAR after the 2020 season, he has entered the endurance races of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac (including Saturday’s Petit Le Mans season finale). Johnson also wants to race in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and is a prime candidate for the Garage 56 entry (a joint project of NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports).

Johnson told the AP he is interested in becoming the latest driver to try “The Double” and run both the Coca-Cola 600 and Indy 500 on the same day (the most recent was Kurt Busch in 2014).

“You know me and endurance sports, and ‘The Double’ sounds awesome,” Johnson, a four-time Coke 600 winner, told AP. “I’ve always had this respect for the guys who have done ‘The Double.’ I would say it is more of a respect thing than a bucket-list item, and I’d love to put some energy into that idea and see if I can pull it off.”

It is less likely that he would return to IMSA’s endurance events because its top prototype series is being overhauled, limiting the amount of inventory available for the new LMDh cars in the rebranded GTP division.

Johnson has confirmed that he would retain primary sponsor Carvana, which has backed him in IndyCar the past two years. He revealed his decision Monday during the last episode of “Reinventing the Wheel,” Carvana Racing’s eight-part docuseries about his 2023 season.

“I’m thankful for the partnership with a company like Carvana for allowing me to take this journey in IndyCar, for seeing the value in our partnership and being open to future opportunities together,” Johnson said. “They have truly showed me that there are no finish lines in life. Along with Carvana, The American Legion, Ally, cbdMD and Frank August were there every step of the way, and I couldn’t have done it without all of them. Most importantly — and the true rockstars in all of this –my family, Chani, Evie and Lydia. They have always allowed me to chase my dreams, and we are all just really excited about what the future holds for all of us. I have enjoyed every minute of these last two years.”

Said Carvana co-founder Ryan Keeton: “During the past two years, Jimmie Johnson has been so amazing to collaborate with. Our team admires his passion, hard work and commitment to continuous improvement while also having fun, and we look forward to continuing to support him next year in this new chapter.”