Jimmie Johnson says the two types of cars he’ll be competing with in 2021 — the IMSA Cadillac DPi he’s racing this weekend at Sebring and the Dallara he’ll drive in the IndyCar Series — are remarkably similar.
“They are different animals, but they are closer together than probably any other car in North America,” Johnson said. “I’ve tried Formula 3 and some other cars, but the IndyCar is just so fast and has so much potential. This IMSA car is really the closest thing I can get in.”
In January, the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion teamed with Kamui Kobayashi, Simon Pagenaud and Mike Rockenfeller to finish second in the No. 48 Action Express Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R in the Rolex 24 At Daytona, the 2021 season opener for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
On Saturday, he’ll team with Kobayashi and Pagenaud in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac at Sebring’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours. The trio will also race in the remaining two IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup events later this season. The experience in the sports car has helped Johnson adapt to the No. 48 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda Indy car he’s tested but won’t race until that series’ season opener April 18 at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala.
Johnson has only had a few hours of testing in the CGR Honda, which he’ll share with Tony Kanaan this season. In the meantime, the Action Express Cadillac has been a reasonable facsimile.
“It has been useful for me,” Johnson said. “These reps have been useful. I think I’ve only had five days in the IndyCar.”
Retraining himself for different cars and different tracks has been the most difficult aspect of the transition.
“I’m really just trying to forget all these dependencies I had driving a NASCAR vehicle and trying to rewire my brain and my senses,” Johnson said. “I feel like I’m making good progress. I think I’m down to little gains now. I probably got all the big chunks. Now it’s down to all of those little chunks, which are the hardest to get.”
It didn’t help matters for Johnson and his teammates that a throttle issue limited them to nine timed laps in Thursday’s first two practice sessions.
“We’ve got some issue there where the throttle is still carrying us through the turn and not returning back to zero,” Johnson said. “A couple exciting moments that we’re trying to get to the bottom of and it’s pretty intermittent.”
The No. 48’s stablemate at Action Express, the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac, was quickest in each of the first three sessions. Felipe Nasr posted a lap of 1m46.212s in the first session that ranked best overall.