Jimmie Johnson completed his first Indy car oval test at Texas Motor Speedway on Monday.
MOORESVILLE, NC – Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series Champion Jimmie Johnson and his No. 48 American Legion Honda Chip Ganassi Racing Team went to great extremes to let Johnson go on an oval for the first time in an Indy car on Monday.
Johnson completed a private test session on the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway that began at 6:00 a.m. Central Time and ended at 1:00 p.m. Phoenix National Congress Monday and Tuesday.
“It’s been twofold because it’s a little cooler to start early and there are 10,000 more members for the American Legion Convention,” Mike Hull, Managing Director of Chip Ganassi Racing, told SPEED SPORT on Monday.
Hull wasn’t in the test, leaving it to Honda # 48 operation to take Johnson’s important next step towards a possible run in the 106th Indianapolis 500 in 2022.
It was a relatively cool 75 degrees Fahrenheit on Monday morning and ended with the heat index at 100 degrees.
Six-time and reigning NTT IndyCar champion Scott Dixon drove the first laps around the 1.44-mile tri-oval measured in IndyCar and used the knowledge that has led him to five victories at TMS, including the 2021 GENENSYS 300 on Jan. May.
“It was important for me to know that I can come here and test and experience it as a driver,” said Johnson. “Let’s go to the difficult. It’s a thing for me I feel like I can control my surroundings and I am very grateful that I can get out of here and do it. The way IndyCar has improved their safety and certainly what the tracks have done to increase safety, my concerns are much less and that is why we are here today. Now that my concerns have reached a point, now is the time to get in the car and see my view from there.
“The car drives very differently. It’s much more responsive, so for the majority of the day I was just trying to get used to this new environment, which is much faster and certainly a bit more sensitive to the inputs the driver gives the car. But it was really nice to be on a familiar track. I know where I am, I know what to do, I know the line around this place and even simple things like knowing where the hotel was last night or how to get into the tunnel and get into the infield. There were some small victories that are nice to have. “
During the test, Johnson also had insights from three-time Indianapolis 500 winning driver and four-time IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti. Franchitti won the 2011 Texas Motor Speedway race.
“It’s a challenge for Jimmie to do what I say, but he’s done very well so far,” said Franchitti. “Track conditions were a little better this morning at 6am when Scott (Dixon) went out and Jimmie did those early runs, but it’s hot now and he’s learning a bit about how the Indy car slips around a bit when it gets to name is.
“It’s about the subtleties. It would be like a person who plays cricket and plays for the English team or whatever … he has a bat; it has a ball. Then I play baseball. It has a bat; it has a ball. Everything else is different, and I think that’s the difference between a stock car and an indy car. Everything you learn on the way up, and everything you learn when you are at the forefront in one of these areas, in no way prepares you to do the other. In fact, it hurts you. ”
The 45-year-old rookie of the IndyCar Series won seven races and scored 16 top 5 and 22 top 10 finishes for Hendrick Motorsports in 35 starts at Texas Motor Speedway in the No. 48 Chevrolet.
According to IndyCar rules, Johnson must pass a rookie test on an oval before being allowed to run another test at the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway in October after this season ends.
Once he has passed the IndyCar exam, he will be allowed to participate in the 106th Indianapolis 500 in the Rookie Orientation Program next year.
“From an IndyCar perspective, they laughed when they told me this, and I laughed too, but they have to watch me ride an oval first,” Johnson said. “This is how the rules work for every driver, no matter who you are. I think even Juan Pablo Montoya had to come back to recertify at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“You have to see me on an oval and then I have to drive the oval and work through my rookie orientation. Depending on how the schedules are going, I think I could do this this fall, then be ready for the open test next spring and work my way through May.
“There is a way, when things are going well and doing lots of laps of the brickyard, to build on the race.”
This trail was originally planned as a test on the Homestead-Miami Speedway before the end of August. Johnson and his team at Chip Ganassi Racing believed that Texas Motor Speedway would be better suited for Johnson’s first oval-shaped experience in an Indy car, since the series runs in Texas but not Homestead. This gives CGR valuable data to compare Johnson’s lap times and race settings with those of the other drivers on the team.
“The goal was to test in Texas based on the experience we had there,” said Johnson. “We haven’t been in an Indy car at Homestead in eight years, but the track was full. We try to be creative with operating hours and when we get on the right track how we get on the right track.
“We also have a two-day appearance by the American Legion in Arizona with the National Convention to co-ordinate with the open days that we’re trying to mess around with.”