Jimmie Johnson on IndyCar: ‘This is what I wanted to do since I was a kid’

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Jimmie Johnson rekindled his childhood dream to compete in the NTT IndyCar Series actually by testing the limits of a Formula One car.

When the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion did a car swap with the McLaren of two-time champion Fernando Alonso after the 2018 season, Johnson was surprised by his zest for an open-wheel race car that once seemed his path.

“To test the Formula One car, and do the car swap through Zak Brown’s generosity and McLaren, I had an experience behind the wheel I’d kind of suppressed,” Johnson said in a Thursday interview (watch the video above) with IndyCar on NBC analysts Leigh Diffey and Townsend Bell. “I was like, ‘Wow, this is what I wanted to do since I was a kid. Looking at the tires, the speed, the power, the power to weight.

“That experience was so awesome that it really sparked this for me, and I’ve been trying to pursue an open-wheel option for ’21 and ‘22.”

Johnson will be making that transition with Chip Ganassi Racing as he wraps his full-time NASCAR career with Hendrick Motorsports this year. He still is trying to lock down the sponsorship to firm up a schedule, but the venture already has created major buzz.

During a “Coffee With Kyle” interview, Mario Andretti, who won both the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500, predicted that Johnson would be “a natural” in IndyCar.

Johnson said the crossover success of Andretti, Parnelli Jones “and many others from that generation are kind of my inspiration (for IndyCar). I have a unique opportunity where I can create options like this.

“I recall watching my heroes take their helmet and race any car anywhere in the world. Today’s racing is much different, and championships are the focus, but for me to move around and enjoy some IndyCar, maybe sports car racing at this point in my career, really comes from watching my heroes doing it.”

Before his Chevrolet ties led to NASCAR, Johnson told Diffey and Bell that his childhood dream was of racing IndyCar “since I was hanging on the fence of the Long Beach Grand Prix as a kid.”

He said he has “no clue” how he will perform on a schedule of street circuits and road courses but plans to lean on five-time champion Scott Dixon and Ganassi driving consultant Dario Franchitti.

“I’m with an amazing and am going to have the best shot that I really would probably ever have in my life to try open-wheel racing, and I’m up to the challenge,” Johnson said. “I want to be as competitive as I possibly can. To go run back of the pack is not why I’m doing this. I want to be up front. I don’t know what that journey is going to exactly look like.”

During a July 28 test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, Johnson said he had trouble with sensing the rear tires on exit and still was adjusting to much shorter braking zones than in a Cup car.

“Some might call me crazy trying to pick the most intense of road racing that exists in North America, but I like a good challenge,” Johnson said. “I know what I’m capable and really excited to just race … it’s a freeing moment.

“I have no idea what kind of success it’ll bring, but certainly I know that going to IndyCar, with the amazing leadership there, the many drivers I know and have been around a long time. I can feel this vibe and brotherhood within the paddock area. That’s something I want to be part of and experience.”

Watch the video above or click here to see Johnson’s interview with Leigh Diffey and Townsend Bell.

James Hinchcliffe on Andretti: ‘It’s certainly the place I want to be’

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Since before the start of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, James Hinchcliffe tirelessly has worked to ensure the future would include a full-time return in 2021.

And with an opportunity to run the final three races this season with Andretti Autosport, there seems a surefire (albeit unlikely) path.

“If I go out and win all three,” Hinchcliffe joked with IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview Friday (watch the video above), “it would be hard for them to say no, right?”

Regardless of whether he can go unbeaten at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course next weekend or the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida (where he earned his first career win in 2013), Hinchcliffe will have the chance to improve his stock with the team that he knows well and now has an opening among its five cars for 2021.

All three of Hinchcliffe’s starts this season — the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, July 4 at the IMS road course and the Indianapolis 500 — were with Andretti, where he ran full time in IndyCar from 2012-14.

“Obviously, the plan from January 2020 was already working on ’21 and trying to be in a full-time program,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed being reunited with Andretti Autosport, and everybody there has been so supportive. It’s been a very fun year for me on track. It’s been kind of a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways.

“It’s certainly the place I want to be moving forward. We’ve been working on that, working on those conversations. Genesys has been an incredible partner in my three races. We’ll be representing Gainbridge primarily, but Genesys will still have a position on our car in the last three.”

Gainbridge is the primary sponsor of the No. 26 Dallara-Honda that was vacated by Zach Veach, who left the team after it was determined he wouldn’t return in 2021. Hinchcliffe can empathize having lost his ride with Arrow McLaren SP after last season with a year left on his deal.

“You never want to earn a ride at the expense of somebody else in the sense that has happened here with Zach,” Hinchcliffe said. “I feel bad that he’s not able to see out the last three races of his season. I’ve got a lot of respect for him off track. He’s been a teammate this year, a colleague for years before that and honestly a friend for years before that. I’ve got a lot of time for him and his family. I understand a little bit of what it’s like in that position and what he’s going through.”

Hinchcliffe is ready to seize the moment, though, starting with the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He had been hoping to add the Harvest Indy Grand Prix to his schedule and had been working out for the possibility.

“Then last week I had given up hope (and) was resigned that wasn’t happening,” he said. “I told my trainer, ‘I think we’re done for this year.’ Three days later, this call comes. I’m glad we didn’t make that decision too early. I feel great physically.

“I look at it as a great opportunity to continue to show I’ve still got what it takes and should be there hopefully full time next year on the grid.”

Watch Hinchliffe’s video with Leigh Diffey above or by clicking here.