Jimmie Johnson aiming to make IndyCar oval testing debut at Homestead in late August

Johnson IndyCar Homestead
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Jimmie Johnson said Tuesday he is aiming to make his NTT IndyCar Series oval test debut in late August at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Earlier this month, Johnson told NBC Sports that he wanted to test at either Homestead or Texas Motor Speedway.

The test is needed in the next two months so he can run in a fall tire test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and complete the Rookie Orientation Program that is required to race in next year’s 500.

“We’re looking at a Homestead test in August,” Johnson said during a Zoom news conference Tuesday. “Last I heard, things were heading in that direction for late August.”

Johnson also said Tuesday that he texted Formula One veteran Romain Grosjean about his oval test debut at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Illinois. Grosjean also originally had committed to running exclusively on road and street courses during his rookie season in IndyCar.

In seven starts on street and road courses, Johnson has a best finish of 19th. His only top 20 came in the opening round at Barber Motorsports Park, and he has yet to finish on the lead lap.

But the lure of the Indy 500 may prove to be too strong to ignore for 2022. This year, Johnson served as an analyst for NBC Sports’ coverage of the iconic race.

“Ultimately, I’m trying to understand the safety level of the Indy car on the ovals,” Johnson said. “That’s the part that’s worrying me as a father of two and a deal I made with my wife a long time ago about the Indy 500. I’ve kind of watched the ovals and really never thought that I could be out there.

“But then participating this year as a television commentator and being around the sport all season long like I have, seeing a few big crashes at the Brickyard and speaking to the drivers after, I’m becoming much more comfortable with the ovals and with the crash dynamics that take place with softer walls, the halo, the aeroscreen, the tub of the car.

“Yes, I need to go make laps and need to understand what that experience is like, but ultimately I’m just trying to understand the safety level of the car, and as I get more comfortable with that, my participation level on ovals will increase.”

With the prevalence of ovals in the NASCAR Cup series, Johnson may well find that discipline to be more comfortable than racing open wheel cars on road courses.

In the videoconference, Johnson indicated that it was a violent crash in qualification by Ganassi teammate Alex Palou at Indianapolis Motor Speedway that may well have changed his opinion of the safety of these cars on ovals.

“He was fine; he walked away,” Johnson said. “That was a big checkmark for me.”

New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
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Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”