Jimmie Johnson will miss the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring because of a conflict with the NTT IndyCar Series, the Action Express team confirmed Thursday.
Jose Maria Lopes will replace Johnson on the No. 48 Ally Cadillac, joining Kamui Kobayashi and Mike Rockenfeller for the March 19 race at Sebring International Raceway. It’s the same lineup (with Johnson) that raced the Rolex 24 at Daytona, but Johnson had been announced as racing the four IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Endurance Cup races with Kobayashi and Rockenfelller.
But Johnson faced virtually impossible logistics in trying to race in the same weekend at Sebring and Texas Motor Speedway, where he will make his IndyCar oval debut March 20 (ahead of his first attempt at the Indy 500 as he moves to a full schedule in 2022).
The schedule conflict apparently will preclude any IndyCar drivers from racing at Sebring. After using three IndyCar drivers in its Rolex 24 lineups, Chip Ganassi Racing announced Tuesday that Ryan Hunter-Reay would join one of its Cadillacs at Sebring in a spot that had been ticketed for Scott Dixon.
“I was really looking forward to going back and racing the Ally Cadillac at Sebring,” Johnson, who initially planned to commute between Florida and Texas, said in a release. “We had a great run there last season and were in contention for the win for most of the race. José María is an excellent driver, and he will do great. I know the team’s experienced, and they can get the Ally Cadillac up on the podium, hopefully the top step.”
Plus they’ll have a guaranteed ally stationed in Texas that weekend. 😎 pic.twitter.com/vugcD2pFiO
— Jimmie Johnson (@JimmieJohnson) February 17, 2022
It will be a busy weekend at Sebring for Lopez and Kobayashi, who are racing in the FIA World Endurance Championship eight-hour race a day earlier at the track.
“It was great to be a part of the Ally Cadillac team at Daytona 24,” Lopez said in a release. “I was very proud of the team effort and how Jimmie, Mike, and Kamui drove in the race. Things just didn’t go our way. We had good pace. It was my first experience at Daytona and racing in America. It was much better than what I expected. I was happy with my performance in the car.
“This is a plus. I was planning to be in Sebring anyway, unfortunately Jimmie isn’t able to do both IndyCar and IMSA at the same time. I will be there for the first WEC race. We race on Friday with Toyota and then I will cross the garage and race on Saturday in the Ally Cadillac. I am really thankful for the opportunity to drive again with Action Express Racing and hopefully me, Mike and Kamui can deliver a good result.”
Action Express general manager Gary Nelson said Lopez had been part of contingency plans since the Sebring-Texas conflict appeared when the series announced their 2022 schedules last year.
“It was really an easy decision to bring in José María,” Nelson said. “He ran with us at Daytona, did all the testing leading up to the Rolex, so slotting him in was a no-brainer. He and Kamui are running the WEC race as well. But they are fit, and I think the extra laps at Sebring can only help us come race day for our Ally Cadillac effort in the 12-hour race. We will miss Jimmie and wish him all the best in Texas.”
Johnson made an eventful debut at Sebring last season. After crashing in qualifying and spinning 15 minutes into the race, he rebounded to lead the race. But the No. 48 team had a podium finish stripped because of a drive time penalty.