Seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson turned his first laps on an oval in his new career as an NTT IndyCar Series driver on Monday at Texas Motor Speedway. As expected, the Californian was beaming after stepping out of the No. 48 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.
“The overall experience has been awesome today,” he said. “We learned a lot, I was able to get up to speed – put down some really fast lap times. And being at a track I’ve raced that in the past (in NASCAR), I think, was helpful. And the laps I ran today helped me piece together the similarities that exist between IndyCar and NASCAR, and there certainly are some differences that I was able to grasp today as well.”
With a packed schedule to manage, Johnson got an early start at TMS and spoke about the major takeaways from running well over 200mph before leaving to attend sponsor duties with the American Legion in a different state.
“The oval piece, in the way you attack the track, is very similar to my NASCAR days,” he said. “The tools that we use are a bit different, the pace of the car is quite a bit higher. So there’s a lot on my end to adjust with my line of sight (around the corners). Processing speeds of adjustments in the race car, and also the lateral g-forces that are put on the body through the corner are pretty high compared to what I’m used to.”
Johnson signed a two-year contract to contest IndyCar road and street courses with CGR ahead of the 2021 season and has expressed interest in entering the Indy 500, but has not made a decision as to whether he’ll add oval racing into his 2022 program.
“Today is my first step toward racing in an Indy 500 or potentially on ovals,” Johnson said. “On ovals, I feel like I need to work through things that make me comfortable with the car on track, and this is one. More test sessions on track are needed before I can make a decision, certainly more conversations with my family, with Chip, with our sponsors. There are a lot of moving pieces to this, but I’m just very thankful to the team for identifying dates and saying, ‘Hey, let’s go get you laps, see what you think,’ and then we’ll know from here once I’ve had a day or two to digest it, what that next step might be and do we go to another oval and try to get more experience working toward a race someday down the road.”
Thanks for another first today. Plenty of depth in the driver coaching department too.
— Jimmie Johnson (@JimmieJohnson)
Johnson was able to lean on some veteran experience as well, with Dario Francitti, Scott Dixon — who drove the initial laps to shake the car down — and Tony Kanaan on-site for the test.
“It’s a challenging thing that Jimmie’s doing as I say, but so far he’s done very well,” said Franchitti. “Track conditions were a little nicer this morning at 6 AM when Scott (Dixon) went out and those early runs Jimmie did, but it’s heated up now, and he’s learning a little bit about how the Indy car slides around a bit when it gets hot.
“It’s all about the subtleties. It would be like a person that plays cricket and plays for the English team or whatever … it’s got a bat, it’s got a ball. Then I’m going to play baseball. It’s got a bat, it’s got a ball. Everything else is different, and I think that’s the difference between a stock car and an IndyCar. Everything you learn on the way up, and everything you learn when you’re the top in either of those fields, doesn’t prepare you in any way to do the other. In fact, it hurts you.”