NASCAR star Jimmie Johnson’s dream of driving an IndyCar finally came to fruition on Tuesday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway where the seven-time Cup champion climbed into Felix Rosenqvist’s No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing NTT DATA Honda to lap the 2.4-mile road course.
It was Johnson’s third attempt to test a Dallara DW12 IndyCar chassis, two previous outings cancelled due to COVID-19. But the 44-year-old finally got a taste of the 750hp 2.2-liter twin-turbo V6 Honda power, Firestone tires, and a few thousand pounds of downforce with CGR’s Scott Dixon in attendance as driver coach.
“That was incredible,” Johnson said in a social media post. “Today more than exceeded my expectations. Sign me up for more!”
Dixon enjoyed introducing his friend to open-wheel action on the same IMS road course where the five-time IndyCar champion won the GMR Grand Prix on July 4. Once he climbed from the car, Johnson had turned approximately 120 laps, used five sets of tires, and did a number of stints that were 24 laps in length.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Dixon told RACER. “Tough conditions. Really low-grip — obviously very hot today, but it gives him a good feel what the car’s like. Through the course of the day, it’s been fun just to talk back and forth about what things are different for him; what’s quite similar; driving style; and a lot of video content that we can go through to help him, just because what he typically does is so different from what we do.
“Honestly, he’s been a very good listener, and very able at replicating video, which is not always very easy to do. You show him something on the data or on the video, and he’s actually able to replicate it, which is pretty cool.
“It’s been good.”
Asked if he felt Johnson was capable of running successfully in an IndyCar road course race after witnessing his first outing, CGR managing director Mike Hull was unequivocal with his answer.
“I feel that he would,” he said. “We had 135 degrees for track temperature and no (Firestone) rubber down, so it’s not a fair comparison to what happen on the GMR Grand Prix weekend. But his lap times were pretty significant considering he’d never driven an IndyCar before. He spun a couple of times, but harmlessly, trying learn how deep you can brake into a corner.
“The best thing is, he had Scott Dixon there to support him, and he could talk with him on how best to drive the car. He’d already reviewed a lot of Scott’s in-car data, which IndyCar allowed.
“What I was most impressed about was you could see why he’s a seven-time champion.”
For Hull, who’s worked with a long list of IndyCar newcomers ranging from Alex Zanardi to Juan Montoya, the Johnson test felt familiar to some of the better debuts he’s experienced.
“You could see how he takes the corners apart; you can see that he really cares about driving a race car; there’s no give-up in that guy,” Hull added. “He’s all in. He wasn’t trying to impress us. He was trying to get the most out of the day, which is a subtle difference. He worked as hard as any driver would with his craft, and matched up with a five-time champion. It was pretty special. I think it’s going to make his decision more difficult once he’s done with NASCAR at the end of the year because he realized he can do it.”
Johnson’s team-first approach to the test, and lack of fear, were other aspects that stood out to Hull.
“He’s a teammate,” he continued. “He feeds off his teammates, and they feed off him. And he’s driven big-horsepower cars, which means he isn’t intimidated by something like an IndyCar. That’s different than someone coming from a lower series, who has to convince himself the power isn’t going to hurt you.
“Pretty impressive guy. He has the aptitude and willpower to do it, and he proved today he can do it. Yes, I have been impressed by a lot of drivers doing their first IndyCar tests, and I was really impressed by what Jimmie did today.”
Given Johnson’s upcoming retirement from stock car racing, IndyCar president Jay Frye, who was present at IMS on Tuesday, got the definitive last word: “He would make a great IndyCar driver…”