Dixon also enjoyed watching Johnson push — and occasionally exceed — the limits of the No. 10 Honda. It made for more learning opportunities as he got a feel for thousands of pounds of downforce and how it needs to be managed throughout each lap.
“An Indy car doesn’t have excessive amounts of downforce like it used to, but it’s still a lot,” he said. “Jimmie did get caught out a couple times just with the amount of yaw in the car. Where in Cup you can have probably 20 degrees of yaw before it really starts to get out of control and spin, in an Indy car, anything more than five to seven degrees means you’re going to spin out.
“He had some moments like that in Turn 4, but he was very good at understanding that I’m going to push it here to try and find the limit knowing that I can’t really hit anything. It was never, ‘Hey, I’m going to go flat in Turn 14 straight away, and if it sticks it sticks…’ He did it in ways where you could see he did a very good job in building up to it. Even the braking, he was showing how he knew to hit the pedal hard and then start the bleeding off of pressure when the car slows and downforce comes off.”
As a teenage Indy Lights champion stepping into his first CART IndyCar test, Dixon went through a similar learning process in figuring out the proper braking technique in a high-downforce open-wheeler.
“Even I struggled with that going from an Indy Lights car to when I first drove a CART car at Putnam Park,” he said. “I remember that my brake traces weren’t great; I had to work hard on making sure that I got the amount of peak that I needed to start with, and then trail off, and I’d been in Lights and open-wheel cars with wings for a long time by that point.
“I think he had done his homework — he had looked at it, he understood a lot of things, and guys like him that have excelled in their careers do it because they have insane car control and the understanding of what a car is going to do. So I don’t think it was a huge shock to him, it’s just he was very good at the process of getting to the point of cause to spinning or finding the maximum.”
Dixon loves the idea of having Johnson in the IndyCar field next year, and hopes the NASCAR star books a few more tests in anticipation of an open-wheel move once he retires from Cup at the end of the season.
“I absolutely think he could fit right in here,” he said. “I think there’s only one reason he would really want to process this situation, or even go down the road here, and that’s to be totally competitive. Yes, it will take a little bit of time; gone are the days where you had 50 days of testing a year. That’s the thing I said yesterday, that the biggest thing for Jimmie would have been having a second day in the car. After the first day, the second day in a new car, everything flows so much easier. You’re not having to worry about how do I get out of the pits, or what button do I push. It just flows so much better.
“So I have no doubt that he will be competitive. Will it take a little bit? Sure, because it’s always hard to find those little bits of time, but then also on the backside, he has such a great understanding of the strategy and what you need to do, and he would be a guy that would cover all the areas, too. So if you found a situation where they could take advantage of it, he would absolutely take advantage of it.”
Having Johnson under the CGR tent is another scenario Dixon would welcome.
“If he does decide to do it, I think it would be great if he was at Ganassi. I think there’s plenty of options out there for him, but I know it would be interesting,” he noted. “It would be really cool, and to line up beside him, or with Jimmie as a teammate, I think would be amazing, man.
“I think especially somebody like him, with what he’s accomplished, a slight change of possibly doing something a little bit different really excites him at this point too. You can just see his pure passion for wanting to race. Does he need to do this? Absolutely not. It’s really out of pure love for the sport and for driving other things. Even if you look at where and how we got to doing what he did with NASCAR was probably not a road he thought he was going to go down. It was fun to see how he works, and how much he enjoys just driving.”