IndyCar’s five-timer was overjoyed to see how well NASCAR’s seven-timer performed in his first test for Chip Ganassi Racing. NTT IndyCar Series championship leader Scott Dixon isn’t one to offer false praise — even for a good friend like Jimmie Johnson — which made his thoughts about the Californian’s run in the No. 10 NTT DATA Honda around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course on Tuesday worth hearing.
“His performance is what you would expect from a seven-time champion, and someone with his knowledge and general approach came through,” Dixon told RACER. “He’s really thorough, and he’s an intense person, and was trying to make sure that he does things correctly and he doesn’t let anybody down, whereas I feel like some drivers don’t really care about that factor.
“The thing that I enjoyed was the eagerness; the night before the test, he was texting me, ‘Hey man, what about even getting out of the pits? Is there a technique?’ There was just tons of questions of making sure he has things covered. He had overlays and video, and he kept asking for a lot of information to try and understand what he needs to do and how to do it better. Then during the day, we got into how to change his line, because there was definitely a lot of what I assume to be Cup-esque kind of things with how he was driving the course, and when we’d talk about it, he’d adapt immediately to driving like an IndyCar driver.”
Although Johnson had a chance to turn a limited number of laps in an older McLaren Formula 1 car in 2018, Tuesday’s IndyCar test was the former off-road racer’s first significant outing in an open-wheel car. Completing 120 laps — 40 more than the length of the July 4 GMR Grand Prix won by Dixon — the 44-year-old began to trust his instincts with a chassis that, in comparison to the No. 48 Chevy Camaro Cup machine he races for Hendrick Motorsports, barely rolls or heaves in the corners, or while braking and accelerating.
Getting attuned to the whispers of feedback being provided by the 750hp Dallara DW12-Honda and reacting swiftly to those inputs was another area where Johnson’s adaptation to IndyCar impressed Dixon.
“Especially, even with Turn 14 — the last corner onto the front straight — just the way he would approach it to start was very different to how we would typically do it in the way of placing loading the tires, and he was trying to induce some understeer, because that corner can be quite neutral,” he said.
“So there’s a lot of preconceived styles that you have coming in from a different type of racing, but he was very good at changing things and he was very fluid, which was really good to see. It was never rushed, and he was never overexerting himself; it was just making sure that he learned as much as he could while enjoying it. You would expect a guy like him to be up to speed quickly on an oval, but these are tricky cars to drive on a road course, and he’s a fast learner. Whatever was thrown at him to change, he did it, and looked at ease while doing it. Pretty remarkable.”