Jimmie Johnson ‘pushing behind the scenes’ to race 24 Hours of Le Mans next year

Jimmie Johnson 2023 plans
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Jimmie Johnson still is “pushing behind the scenes” on plans to make his 24 Hours of Le Mans debut in 2023 with the Next Gen Camaro fielded by NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports.

The seven-time Cup Series champion said Tuesday morning he “eagerly” is awaiting confirmation of the 2023 NTT IndyCar Series schedule, which is expected to have an open weekend to allow for crossover to the famous endurance race in France. Next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans will be held June 10-11, which will be two weeks after the 107th Indy 500.

“I want to go to Le Mans; it would be an amazing experience to go with Hendrick and Action Express and the way this whole partnership works,” Johnson said. “But I think so much really hinges on the (IndyCar) schedule being released to understand if I can, and also from a team standpoint, what drivers would be at the top of their list. So I’m thankful to have had a few conversations with them, and I know that there’s interest. I certainly have a ton of interest to do it. We’re just still waiting for that first domino to fall.

“I feel like the interest is really high on both sides. We haven’t been able to talk anything more formal because the schedule’s not out.”

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Since announcing the project in March, team owner Rick Hendrick prominently has mentioned Johnson as a prime candidate for the expected Garage 56 entry at Le Mans next year.

The program will be overseen by Hendrick vice president of motorsports Chad Knaus, and the crew chief for Johnson’s seven Cup titles also attended this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans two weeks ago. The race drew several executives from IMSA, Chevrolet and Hendrick (including Chief Operating Officer Jeff Gordon, who also is on Hendrick’s list of potential drivers) for meetings about the Garage 56 entry, which IMSA president John Doonan told NBC Sports will be approved in January.

Johnson still is firming up his racing schedule for 2023, but he hopes it will include the same lineup as this year – a full IndyCar season and an endurance race schedule in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Series. Last month ahead of his Indy 500 debut, Johnson said it probably would be a few months before he would know more about the possible return of sponsor Carvana with his No. 48 Dallara-Honda in IndyCar.

With the premier prototype DPi class being replaced with the new LMDh platform in the rebranded GTP category next year, there is some question about whether there will be enough chassis available for part-time programs such as the No. 48 Ally Cadillac that has been fielded for Johnson by Action Express the past two years.

“I really think it’s schedule-permitting, opportunity-permitting,” Johnson said. “There’s such a shake-up next year within sports car racing, I’m not sure the dust has really settled yet to understand where opportunities might lie. I still think in the next month or two, there’ll be more clarity for myself and a few others out there. Just as this series really comes together and we know cars and seats and opportunities that are out there.”

Johnson quashed a recent report that he might be considering ovals only in IndyCar next year.

“I’m not sure where that has come from; it has not been in any discussions I’ve had or thought processes I’ve had,” said Johnson, who is in his first full IndyCar season after running road and street courses in 2021. “What I’ve been doing has been so much fun and enjoyable. Continue to get better. Certainly hope to do something similar again next year.”

“I’m not sure where that has come from; it has not been in any discussions I’ve had or thought processes I’ve had,” said Johnson, who is in his first full IndyCar season after running road and street courses in 2021. “What I’ve been doing has been so much fun and enjoyable. Continue to get better. Certainly hope to do something similar again next year.”

Chad Knaus talks with Jimmie Johnson and Kamui Kobayashi before the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January (Brett Farmer/IMSA).

After a three-month break, Johnson will be racing the No. 48 Ally Cadillac at Watkins Glen International this weekend with teammates Mike Rockenfeller and Kamui Kobayashi.

The trio last raced together in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, where an overnight crash ended their bid at a victory. Because of the IndyCar race at Texas Motor Speedway, Johnson missed the car’s last start at Sebring International Raceway, (where the No. 48 finished sixth with Kobayashi, Rockenfeller and Jose Maria Lopez).

Though Kobayashi has strong ties to Toyota (as the manager of its World Endurance Championship team), Johnson is hoping to remain teamed in IMSA with Rockenfeller and Kobayashi because they’re “two just great human beings and great guys to be around.

“I really don’t have a good sense of things,” Johnson said. “I feel like Action has been able to help Kamui navigate through the Toyota conflict, and we’ve been able to do it for a few years, so I feel confident if there’s an opportunity, we would be able to figure it out. Rocky’s schedule is a little more open. I know all of us want to stay together, and I feel like behind the scenes, the political pieces, we could get that organized. It’s just really about cars being available to drive. It’s still unclear. I think we’ll have a better idea in the next month or so what opportunities might be there.”

Johnson also is confident of being able to retain Ally, which also sponsored him in the Cup Series and remains the primary backer of Alex Bowman with the No. 48 of Hendrick (which supplies Knaus and other team members to Action Express’ Michelin Endurance Cup entry).

“The relationship with (Ally) is rock solid,” Johnson said. “We’re still in this phase with IndyCar, sports car or any other ideas I have to go racing. Everything right now is people are just starting to talk about options. It’s usually end of summer, beginning of fall when paper starts moving around and people are looking to ink stuff and get it done. We’re just early in the cycle, and I’m certainly trying to keep my options open.”

Ken Roczen signs with HEP Progressive Ecstar Suzuki for 2023

Roczen Progressive Ecstar Suzuki
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ANAHEIM, California – Ken Roczen will make the move from HRC Honda to H.E.P. Motorsports with the Progressive Ecstar Suzuki team, ending a long and eventful offseason that saw his split from his longstanding team after he committed to running World Supercross (WSX).

“H.E.P. Motorsports is thrilled to announce that the team has signed Ken Roczen as its premier rider for the 2023 season,” the team announced on Instagram. “Former AMA Motocross champion Roczen will be aboard a Suzuki RM-Z450. Roczen, who won his most recent championship on a Suzuki, will be reunited with the brand and bring his exciting style, determination, and grit back to the RM Army.

“Ken Roczen will compete in the upcoming 2023 Supercross and Motocross Championship series which is set to start on January 7 at Anaheim Stadium in Southern California.”

For Roczen, it is a return to the bike of his youth and on which he had some of his greatest professional success.

“This thing has been going on for weeks and weeks and weeks in the making, but there was so much uncertainty,” Roczen told NBC Sports during Monster Energy Supercross Media Sessions. “It was a very unique situation. I just finally signed two nights ago, so it’s really only legit once the ink hits the paper. It’s been in the works for a long time, but there were just a lot of questions and a lot of input from a lot of other teams too.

“Good things take time, and I’m okay with that. I grew up riding Suzuki. Ot’s like a homecoming. It’s a special feeling”

Roczen won the 2016 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship on a Suzuki before making the move to Honda. That year he won nine of 12 Nationals and finished no worse than second as he easily outpaced Eli Tomac by 86 points. He finished third in his next Pro Motocross outing in 2018 after sitting out the outdoor season in 2017.

“I am beyond excited to reconnect with Suzuki for the 3rd time in my career. We’ve had a lot of success in the past and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can accomplish together in our future.” Roczen said in the Instagram post.