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In a ‘way different’ car, Jimmie Johnson makes successful IndyCar oval debut at Texas

IndyCar Jimmie Johnson oval

Seven-time Texas Motor Speedway winner Jimmie Johnson went to the 1.5-mile track Monday to forget everything he knew about driving the layout in his first IndyCar oval test.

“I need to pretend as if I’ve never been here before and then after a lot of laps, maybe pull a few small things from my NASCAR days to apply to the Indy car,” the seven-time Cup Series champion said in an interview distributed by the track after his one-day test session was complete. “Ironically, the way you use the banking to help support the race car is much more critical in an Indy car than it is in a Cup car, and the line is a bit more forgiving in a Cup car as a result. Some of my early laps I was maybe a little wide on entry and exit and putting myself in a harmful position on track, and we had to correct that and pull me back into the IndyCar line and the IndyCar mindset.”

For the most part, though, Johnson’s oval debut seemed to go swimmingly despite being in a car that “drives way different” than a stock car.

“It’s much more responsive and certainly a bit more sensitive to the inputs that the driver gives to the car,” he said. “But it’s been 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. Even down to simple things like knowing where the hotel was last night or knowing how to drive into the tunnel and get into the infield. There’s been some small wins that are nice to have.”

Johnson, who is running the road and street courses as an IndyCar rookie with Chip Ganassi Racing this season, also had the support of three IndyCar champions. Teammate Scott Dixon shook down the No. 48 Dallara-Honda for Johnson to drive, and team consultant and driving coach Dario Franchitti offered pointers. Tony Kanaan, who drove the No. 48 in four oval races this season, also was on hand.

Dario, JJ, Dixon, TK at TMS

Using five sets of tires, Johnson was estimated to have made at least 200 laps. Speeds from Monday’s test were unavailable, but the IndyCar pole at Texas last year was 215.74 mph (for comparison, the most recent NASCAR Cup Series pole speed at Texas was 189.707 mph in November 2019).

“He got up to speed really quickly, but his description was it feels like the Millennium Falcon going into hyperdrive in the Star Wars film, and I could definitely relate to that because they’re so quick, particularly around here in Texas,” Franchitti, a veteran of NASCAR and IndyCar at Texas, said in an interview with Texas Motor Speedway PR.

“It’s all about the subtleties. It would be like a person that plays cricket and then says, ‘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 Indy car. 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. It’s a challenging thing that Jimmie’s doing as I say, but so far he’s done very well.”

Johnson has said the Texas test is the first step in determining if he will race the Indy 500 next year. He is hoping to do a tire test in the fall at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to complete the Rookie Orientation Program that is required before a first attempt at the Indy 500.

He also is weighing running more ovals in 2022.

JJ TMS Test 5

“I feel like I need to work through things that make me comfortable with the car on track, and this is one,” Johnson said. “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.”

Referencing the 2001 CART race that was canceled at the track after drivers experienced dizziness from severe G-loading at speed, Johnson said he had concerns about how Texas would drive. But he found it “more forgiving” than anticipated and also easier than the laps he’d made on an iRacing simulator.

“There was a point in time where speeds were so high drivers could barely stay conscious driving around this track, so it has had me alarmed,” Johnson said. “To know that I could come here and test and experience it as a driver was important to me. Let’s go to the tough one. It’s one thing by myself. I feel like I can control my environment, and I’m very thankful that I’m able to go out here and do it. The way IndyCar has advanced their safety and certainly what the tracks have done to increase the safety, my concerns are much less and that’s why we’re here today.”