Brabham, PIRTEK Team Murray through first GP, first oval day

Photo: PIRTEK Team Murray
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INDIANAPOLIS – With the pre-event buildup a bit out of the way, Matthew Brabham and the No. 61 PIRTEK Team Murray Chevrolet team are now done with two of their four “firsts” this month of May.

They’ve got their first race under their belt and their first day of Indianapolis 500 practice. The remaining firsts? The first qualifying attempt this weekend and the first Indianapolis 500 race, itself.

Brabham is through his first race, this weekend’s Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis, where he overachieved in qualifying 14th and finishing 16th.

“We only just missed out on making it into the next group – it comes down to milliseconds in this competitive Verizon IndyCar Series field at the end of it all,” Brabham said after qualifying.

Then after the race, he added: “I think it was almost the perfect introduction for me to the Verizon IndyCar Series. I wasn’t sure how things like the pit strategies were going to play out, having never done a racing pitstop before, but the PIRTEK Team Murray guys were on fire with every single stop.

“The start was crazy – there was so much stuff that was flying around, the buffeting on my head was unbelievable. Due to the crash, we were able to get through clean and then settle into a rhythm for the race.

“The whole experience was definitely different, I had never done anything like the restarts, push to pass or pit strategies before, but it all went pretty smoothly!

“It was weird and surprising to be racing and dicing with both Marco Andretti and Will Power there. I watched both of those guys as a kid, as well as watching Marco from the sidelines while at Andretti Autosport a lot and Will – the local boy from Toowoomba – is just an Australian hero. I thought it was all a bit surreal!”

Team owner Brett “Crusher” Murray added, “I think its the first finish for Matt Brabham for many hundreds I would hope. He has been on-song all week. We’ve had our issues as you would expect from a team that has come together for two races.

“The fact we’ve finished the race, there isn’t a scratch on the car, Matt is safe he’s done a great job and got all those laps under his belt is a credit to him and the team.”

A team-produced video from the first race is below:

Then on Monday, despite a delay in getting out for the beginning of his rookie orientation program, Brabham was still able to complete all three phases. He ran 39 laps in the first two-hour session and 49 laps in the afternoon four-hour session.

“It took me a while to build up to speed, I was slowly learning the lines and getting used to how to get around the Speedway. The focus for me today was becoming acclimatized to the car in Speedway trim.

“With the Rookie Orientation Program, we were required to go up in increments of five miles per hour from 205mph after completing a number of laps. It was our number one goal to get through that program today, which we did.

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Photo: PIRTEK Team Murray

“This afternoon, we got to run an hour with the rest of the field, so was able to experience some traffic on track. I just had a lot of fun out there really!

“I didn’t expect all the other drivers to get out there and run in a big pack. When everyone was out there swapping, changing and passing and almost racing in some ways, it was a bit daunting to start with.

“Once I had done that for a couple of laps, I got  into a rhythm and was feeling more comfortable. To be honest, I didn’t feel too bad at all hanging around those guys, following them and seeing how they race was really good experience.

“With every lap, I’m learning – I’m still not completely comfortable just yet, I need to keep working through it this week and see how it goes.”

A team-produced video from Monday’s session is below:

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.”