Jimmie Johnson says he wants to do IndyCar ‘more than ever’ after test

IndyCar Jimmie Johnson test
Chris Owens/IndyCar
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Finally fulfilling his childhood dream of driving an Indy car, seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson is sold on figuring out how to race next year in the IndyCar Series after a test session Tuesday.

“It only lit the fire more. 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.”

Johnson initially thought his racing career would take him into IndyCar, the series he followed as a child, but the path instead veered into NASCAR. He’s put together one of the most successful careers in series history, but the 44-year-old will retire from full-time NASCAR competition at the end of this season.

He won’t stop competing, though, and Johnson has already put in motion a plan he hopes will get him into some IndyCar events next year. An initial test with McLaren was canceled when sports shut down in the early part of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic; Johnson’s positive coronavirus test earlier this month pushed a July 8 test with Chip Ganassi Racing to Tuesday.

Even as he headed to Indianapolis Motor Speedway at the start of the day, he fretted that something would spoil his long-awaited opportunity.

“Third time was a charm, but I was worried something would jinx it,” he said.

IndyCar Jimmie Johnson test
Jimmie Johnson leaned on five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon for advice during a test session Tuesday with Chip Ganassi Racing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Chris Owens/IndyCar).

Nothing spoiled his day, which Johnson likened to a “first day of school.” He drove the same car Felix Rosenqvist raced on the Indy road course earlier this month and had five-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon on hand as his driver coach.

IndyCar Jimmie Johnson test
Jimmie Johnson drove the No. 10 Dallara-Honda during a test session Tuesday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with Chip Ganassi Racing (Chris Owens/IndyCar).

Despite tough track conditions (with low grip because of high temperatures), Dixon said Johnson got a good idea of driving in IndyCar.

“He was very impressive. There was no trying to do too much,” Dixon told AP. “He was texting me last night, asking me all sorts of questions, if there were tricks for getting out of the pits, how to handle a turn, those kind of things. He was just super amped up and just excited to finally get there.”

It was a busy session for Johnson, who was trying to learn the car while also testing new cockpit cooling advances for the series. The Ganassi team had five sets of tires for the session and with the track temperature nearing 140 degrees, the degradation came quickly.

Johnson also spun twice during the day – once in the first turn of the road course when he had too much rear brake and a second time in the fourth turn when he just lost the car. He took pride in keeping it out of the grass both times, but he flat-spotted an already limited allotment of tires.

“By the end of the day they were mix-matching tires, giving me mixed sets, just to let me have more laps,” Johnson said.

Johnson had previously said this test would determine if pursuing IndyCar was worth his time – he had joked he’d know quickly if he was any good at it – and after nearly eight hours with the Ganassi team, he was undeterred.

“When I got in the car, I needed two sessions to let my eyes adjust. Things were coming up on me pretty quick,” Johnson said. “Right before lunch, we started finding a groove. In the beginning of the day I was finding big chunks, but the track was going away while my ability was increasing.”

Dixon was impressed with Johnson’s ability to process information and apply feedback, particularly since he’s one of the most accomplished NASCAR drivers in history. Dixon said it was difficult to assess Johnson’s pace because the track was green and the temperatures were so hot but estimated Johnson was running similar to how series regulars were earlier this month in “the mid-to-late stint of the race we had. But you’ve got no benchmark. It’s a big unknown.

“For a guy who has done what he’s done, he was still pretty excited,” Dixon said. “The passion that he has for racing and trying something different, he was typical Jimmie, just the way he applies himself. He’s never pushy. He’s constantly asking questions, how to be better, how do I do this.

“He was really methodical, he was really good at being able to copy stuff and he was really adaptive, which isn’t always easy, especially at our age.”

Johnson still hopes to test with Arrow McLaren SP later this year (McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown said recently the team remains interested in Johnson despite the test with Ganassi), and he is determined to get into road or street course races in 2021.

He’s softened his stance toward racing on ovals and the Indianapolis 500 because of IndyCar safety advancements but said Tuesday that 2022 is probably the earliest he could consider expanding his schedule.

He also noted that his IndyCar future is contingent on finding sponsorship and hoped a successful first test will spark conversations about funding.

“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.”

IndyCar Jimmie Johnson test
Jimmie Johnson wants to run road and street courses in IndyCar next season but hasn’t ruled out the Indy 500 for 2022 (Chis Owens/IndyCar).

Ken Roczen signs with HEP Progressive Ecstar Suzuki for 2023

Roczen Progressive Ecstar Suzuki
Align Media
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ANAHEIM, California – Ken Roczen will make the move from HRC Honda to H.E.P. Motorsports with the Progressive Ecstar Suzuki team, ending a long and eventful offseason that saw his split from his longstanding team after he committed to running World Supercross (WSX).

“H.E.P. Motorsports is thrilled to announce that the team has signed Ken Roczen as its premier rider for the 2023 season,” the team announced on Instagram. “Former AMA Motocross champion Roczen will be aboard a Suzuki RM-Z450. Roczen, who won his most recent championship on a Suzuki, will be reunited with the brand and bring his exciting style, determination, and grit back to the RM Army.

“Ken Roczen will compete in the upcoming 2023 Supercross and Motocross Championship series which is set to start on January 7 at Anaheim Stadium in Southern California.”

For Roczen, it is a return to the bike of his youth and on which he had some of his greatest professional success.

“This thing has been going on for weeks and weeks and weeks in the making, but there was so much uncertainty,” Roczen told NBC Sports during Monster Energy Supercross Media Sessions. “It was a very unique situation. I just finally signed two nights ago, so it’s really only legit once the ink hits the paper. It’s been in the works for a long time, but there were just a lot of questions and a lot of input from a lot of other teams too.

“Good things take time, and I’m okay with that. I grew up riding Suzuki. Ot’s like a homecoming. It’s a special feeling”

Roczen won the 2016 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship on a Suzuki before making the move to Honda. That year he won nine of 12 Nationals and finished no worse than second as he easily outpaced Eli Tomac by 86 points. He finished third in his next Pro Motocross outing in 2018 after sitting out the outdoor season in 2017.

“I am beyond excited to reconnect with Suzuki for the 3rd time in my career. We’ve had a lot of success in the past and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can accomplish together in our future.” Roczen said in the Instagram post.