Jimmie Johnson is treating next week’s IndyCar test as a first serious gauge of how competitive he could potentially be in an open-wheeler.
The seven-time NASCAR champion will test with Chip Ganassi Racing on the Indianapolis road course. Johnson has long been eager to try his hand at open-wheel and was scheduled to test with Arrow McLaren earlier this year before the pandemic nixed those plans. Getting on track with Ganassi and experiencing IndyCar will help Johnson, who is retiring from full-time NASCAR competition at the end of the year, decide if it’s something he wants to do in the future.
“If I’m about four seconds off the pace, then that’s probably a quick sign that I don’t need to be in one of these cars,” Johnson said Friday morning. “It’s really [about] how I can feel the car and what my pace is like. Of course, it’s unrealistic to think that I’ll be in a race-winning pace in the first test session, but if I’m within a certain amount of time and I have a good feel of the car, then for me, I feel like that’s an important first step that I need to know that I can be competitive.
“I do not want to go race in any series and not be competitive. It’s really in those lines of sensing and feeling the car. Of course, lap times always plays a role in things. From my standpoint, that’s what I’m looking at. And on the team side, I would say it’s pretty similar. They might have a few more things that they’re looking at, but on my side, it’s really about competitiveness.”
If Johnson does make a start in IndyCar competition, it’s unlikely that ovals would be on the cards if his past comments are any guide. However, Johnson is going to keep an eye on how the season progresses, considering the safety elements for IndyCar on ovals “has dramatically increased” with the implementation of the windscreen.
Johnson said that would like to run the Indianapolis 500, but he would have to convince wife Chandra to support such an effort. For now, the focus will be on road and street courses.
“There are 12 on the schedule right now, and I would be open to run all 12 if the right opportunity came along,” he said. “But when I was a kid growing up, the closest IndyCar racing for me was at Long Beach. So, one of my hopes is that I am able to race at Long Beach. I hung on the fence a lot as a kid watching and dreaming. I had a lot of meetings as my professional career developed at the Long Beach Grand Prix with Chevrolet, thinking about what would be next for me transitioning from off-road trucks to asphalt. For me, there’s a lot of sentimental value with that race, and I hope to race there.
“But I’m open to all – when you think of COTA when you think of Road America, there are just so many good ones to think about. Indy, obviously, I’m going to have a chance to test there. I’d be highly interested in every one that they have on the schedule right now.”