IndyCar Jimmie Johnson test
Chris Owens/IndyCar

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

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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).

IMSA results, points, stats package after Sunday at Road America

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Helio Castroneves and Ricky Taylor delivered Team Penske’s first victory this season in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, winning at Road America from the pole position Sunday and moving up to sixth in points after finishing no better than seventh in the first three races this season.

The Team Penske No. 7 Acura DPi led a race-high 48  of 63 laps, including the final four after Castroneves seized a restart to take first from Renger van der Zande, who finished second with Ryan Briscoe in the No. 10 Cadillac DPi.

Other class winners at the Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, road course were the No. 81 ORECA LMP2 07 of Henrik Hedman and Ben Hanley in LMP2, the No. 3 Corvette C8.R of Antonio Garcia and Jordan Taylor in GTLM and the No. 12 Lexus RC F GT3 of Townsend Bell and Frankie Montecalvo in GTD.

RAIN-SOAKED RELIEF: Castroneves delivers Penske’s first win with late pass

Here are the race stats, points and results from the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race at Road America:


RESULTS: Click here for the overall finishing order and here for the class breakdown.

POINTS: In the DPi standings, the No. 10 Cadillac of Briscoe and van der Zande leads by six points (124-118) over the No. 5 Cadillac of Joao Barbosa and Sebastien Bourdais.

The No. 3 Corvette of Antonio Garcia and Jordan Taylor leads the GTLM standings with 130 points, 10 more than the No. 912 Porsche of Earl Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor.

In GTD, the No. 12 Lexus of Bell and Montecalvo moved into the lead by four points (121-117) over AIM Vasser Sullivan teammates Jack Hawksworth and Aaron Telitz in the No. 14 Lexus.

The No. 38 of Performance Tech Motorsport leads in LMP2.

Click here for the points standings for drivers and teams after Road America.

STATS PACKAGE FOR ROAD AMERICA:

Fastest laps by driver

Fastest laps by driver after race

Fastest laps by driver and class after race

Fastest lap sequence

Leader sequence

Lap chart

Race analysis by lap

NEXT: The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s GT classes will race Aug. 21-22 at Virginia International Raceway.