Jimmie Johnson begins ‘very steep learning curve’ of getting comfortable in IndyCar

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The decals and colors have been applied to his No. 48 Dallara-Honda. His Chip Ganassi Racing team’s timing stand is done for the 13 races next season. He’s working with the team members setting up his new ride.

It’s looking a lot more like Jimmie Johnson, NTT IndyCar Series driver, is a reality.

But when will it feel that way for the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion?

“I’m not sure when that will be,” Johnson said with a chuckle Monday after turning laps with 20 other drivers at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama. “It feels pretty far away right now. I have a great camaraderie with everyone in the paddock. And I feel like that will be a much shorter time from the ‘how I feel’ standpoint.

“But what matters is how I feel on the track. That’s just going to take some time. I have a very steep learning curve with myself without a lot of seat time or practice available for rookie drivers these days. It’s going to take the better part of the year to get really comfortable in 2021 in the car on the tracks.”

Johnson, who previously had tested July 28 in a single-car session with Ganassi at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, spent the first few hours of the one-day test, getting acclimated to the cockpit (a much tighter squeeze than a Cup car and the aeroscreen adds a wrinkle), procedures (drivers are buckled in by a crew member instead of fastening their own belts in NASCAR) and myriad knobs and levers used for handling adjustments and starting the car.

He spoke with reporters after turning about 30 laps in a morning session at Barber, where he said he was shaving “seconds” off his time every lap but still was “a ways off” the pace on a 17-turn, 2.38-mile road course that “rewards bravery and aggression, and that’s just not what I have yet.

“I just want to be courteous on track and not be the rookie that makes mistakes,” Johnson said. “I feel I’ve probably been a bit too worried about my mirrors and making sure I let guys by, but now that I’m closer on pace, it takes them a lot longer to get to me and catch me, and they can pass me in a more traditional braking area.

“Just everything is sped up. It’s so much quicker from the car speed itself, closing rate, braking distance, all those things just compound, and things happen a lot quicker. Each time I go on track, things just slow down a bit more for me, and I’m able to work my way through all that stuff to get faster and more comfortable.”

Johnson hadn’t had the chance to benchmark his lap speeds against the field (which included six-time champion teammate Scott Dixon, two-time series champion Josef Newgarden, 2019 Indianapolis 500 winner Simon Pagenaud, 2018 Indy 500 winner Will Power and other notables).

According to a tweet of session speeds by Indianapolis Star reporter Nathan Brown, Johnson’s fastest lap was nearly 3 seconds off IndyCar rookie of the year Rinus VeeKay.

Johnson said he’d have been pleased to get within a second of the fastest drivers (a 24-driver field can be separated by less than a second in qualifying as at the St. Petersburg finale last week). He was “trending well” in low-speed corners when matched against Dixon. Finding the edge on Barber’s uphill climbs into turns was more difficult.

“It was the high-speed, flat-out corners where you really have to trust the vehicle and trust the downforce that the vehicle provides, where I had my biggest gap,” Johnson said. “I’m assuming that’s still the case and look forward to more reps to close that gap.

“This track, there is really no runoff. If you do go off, you’re in the grass and into a barrier. More than anything today for me is logging every lap that I can just because I’m starting at ground zero, so I feel like that’s more important than anything, although I’m eager to go look at the sheet and see how far I’m off and see how much ground I need to make up, and I’ll keep a close eye on that.”

IndyCar Jimmie Johnson testing
Chip Ganassi Racing managing director Mike Hull talks with Jimmie Johnson during Monday’s test at Barber (IndyCar).

There’ll be one more IndyCar test this year Nov. 10 at WeatherTech Laguna Seca Raceway for Johnson, who will wrap up his full-time NASCAR career Sunday at Phoenix Raceway.

Then there’s an annual preseason session at Sebring International Raceway in January and a few other sessions before he will make his IndyCar debut March 7 on the streets of St. Petersburg (where he also just announced his sponsorship with Carvana last month).

“I think seven (tests) from now until the end of next season,” said Johnson, who has a two-year sponsor deal at Ganassi. “It’s not a lot. Then the weekend schedules are getting more condensed. So it’s a bad time to be a rookie. Even a 45-year-old rookie with all the years I have in racing, to learn these cars and tracks. It’s going to be a real steep learning curve for me.”

Travis Pastrana leads flag-to-flag in Nitro Rallycross as the series returns to America

Pastrana Nitro Rallycross
Barry Chin / Getty Images
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Travis Pastrana waited until the final trip around ERX Motor Park to take his Joker Lap – a longer way around the course that all drivers must do at least once in a race – and came out cleanly to win his first Nitro Rallycross race of 2022. With this win, Pastrana is the third driver to visit Victory Lane in the first three rounds of the 2022-23 season.

“This is the closest to a motocross track,” Pastrana told Katie Osborne on Peacock. “Thank you so much for a beautiful facility. It’s been a rough start to the season and I’m so thankful to be back out here. We had a good run in the side-by-side and now for this. This is much needed.”

Another thing needed was the sense of improvement. And Pastrana earned that affirmation each time he completed a lap around the course.

“I get my lap times read out and they said ‘fastest time of the week,’ ‘fastest time of the week’ (each time around) ” Pastrana said. “This is really special. We’re a long way behind in the championship, but welcome to America.”

In a pre-race press conference, Pastrana said that as Nitro Rallycross heads back to America, it was time for an American to win and he made good on his promise. Pastrana took the early lead over Robin Larsson and let the back of his Subaru hang out, taking risks he might not otherwise take if not for his need to win.

How to Watch Nitro Rallycross

Larsson’s second-place finish completed a perfect sweep of the podium in three rounds. In fact, he has not yet finished worse than second after winning the opening round at Lydden Hill in the United Kingdom and finishing second at Strangnas in Sweeden.

Fraser McConnel rounded out the podium for his best result of the season. He finished fourth in each of the first two rounds.

Last year, Pastrana finished second in this race to Scott Speed before narrowly edging his teammate for the championship.

Andreas Bakkerud crashed in prelims, but rebounded to finish just off the block in fourth. Bakkerud won the second round ahead of his teammate Larsson.

Oliver Bennett completed the top five.

Minneapolis is the first of three rounds scheduled in the United States. Next on the schedule is Glen Helen, Calif. on Octo 30 and then Phoenix at Wild Horse Pass on November 12th. Nitro Rallycross will then head to Saudi Arabia in December to continue their 2022-23 season.