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.”

Starting lineup grid for IMSA Petit Le Mans: Tom Blomqvist puts MSR on pole position

Petit Le Mans lineup
IMSA
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IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship contender Tom Blomqvist put the Meyer Shank Racing Acura at the front of the starting lineup for the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta.

Blomqvist turned a 1-minute, 8.55-second lap on the 2.54-mile circuit Friday to capture his third pole position for MSR this season. Earl Bamber qualified second in the No. 02 Cadillac for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Ricky Taylor was third in the No. 10 Acura of Wayne Taylor Racing, which enters Saturday’s season finale with a 19-point lead over the No. 60 of Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis (who will be joined by Helio Castroneves) for the 10-hour race.

PETIT LE MANS STARTING GRID: Click here for the starting lineup l Lineup by car number

PETIT LE MANS: Info on how to watch

With the pole, MSR sliced the deficit to 14 points behind WTR, which will field the trio of Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque and Brendon Hartley in Saturday’s race.

“We really needed to put the car in this kind of position,” Blomqvist said. “It makes our life a little less stressful tomorrow. It would have given the No. 10 a bit more breathing space. It’s going to be a proper dogfight tomorrow. The guys gave me such a great car. It’s been fantastic this week so far, and it really came alive. I’m hugely thankful to the boys and girls at MSR for giving me the wagon today to execute my job.

“That was a big effort from me. I knew how important it was. It’s just awesome for the guys to give them some sort of reward as well. It’s always nice to be quick. If you do the pole, you know you’ve got a quick car.”

Though WTR has a series-leading four victories with the No. 10, MSR won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and has five runner-up finishes along with its three poles.

The strong performances of the ARX-05s ensure that an Acura will win the final championship in IMSA’s premier Daytona Prototype international (DPi) division, which is being rebranded as Grand Touring Prototype in the move to LMDh cars next season.

Taylor qualified third despite sliding into the Turn 5 gravel during the closing minutes of qualifying while pushing to gain points.

“Qualifying was important for points,” Taylor said. “Going into it, if we outqualified the No. 60 Meyer Shank Acura, they had a lot to lose in terms of championship points. So, we were trying to increase the gap over 20 points which would’ve made a big difference for tomorrow. We would have loved to get the pole and qualify ahead of the No. 60, but in the scheme of the points, it didn’t change a whole lot. I’m feeling good since it’s such a long race, and the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura team does such a good job strategizing and putting us in a good position.

“I’m very confident in our lineup and our team compared to them over the course of 10 hours. I’d put my two teammates up against those guys any day. I think we are all feeling optimistic and strong for tomorrow.”

In other divisions, PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports (LMP2), Riley Motorsports (LMP3), VasserSullivan (GTD Pro) and Paul Miller Racing (GTD) captured pole positions.

The broadcast of the 10-hour race will begin Saturday at 12:10 p.m. ET on NBC, moving at 3 p.m. to USA Network.


QUALIFYING

Results

Results by class

Fastest lap by driver

Fastest lap by driver after qualifying

Fastest lap by driver and class after qualifying

Fastest lap sequence in qualifying

Best sector times in qualifying

Time cards in qualifying

PRACTICE RESULTS: Session I l Session II l Session III