Reigning NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon believes that, although Jimmie Johnson has one race under his belt now, the streets of St. Petersburg are going to be eye opening for the open wheel rookie.
Johnson switched over to IndyCar this year after a Hall of Fame career in NASCAR that saw him tie the all-time record of seven cup series championships.
Looking for a new challenge, the 45-year-old walked away from stock car racing and joined what he hopes to be the next chapter of his career in single-seaters.
He has earned accolades from his colleagues in recent months, including his Chip Ganassi Racing team-mate and six-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon, for the hard work he has put in to get himself ready for this season.
But Dixon believes that the lack of testing and practice afforded on temporary street circuits will lead to Johnson being surprised by the difficulty of this weekend’s race from St. Pete.
“I couldn’t think of anything more difficult than what he’s trying to accomplish,” said Dixon.
“[St. Pete] is definitely going to be an eye-opener for Jimmie. He’s spent a good amount of time on the simulator, which is definitely going to help the transition somewhat.
“Hopefully it goes well, and I know he’s definitely put in the time and effort. But again, you just get such limited track time these days with a couple of sessions and then you’re straight into qualifying, so hopefully it goes well for him.
“You want to push, but then you also don’t want to crash the car. So it’s a very fine balance.
“It’s more of a commitment level that you have to step outside the bounds a little bit to get the tire to work and then to get the confidence again, and it kind of just rolls into something.
“So if you’re a bit timid, the car feels horrible and you never really get on top of it.
“You’ve got to be aggressive but confidently aggressive, and I think we’ve tried to do enough sort of prep work with Jimmie that will help him get into it.”
Street circuits are known for their unforgiving nature, with concrete barriers replacing grass and gravel traps alongside the course. Even small mistakes can have race-ending consequences.
Johnson will only have two practice sessions to get a feel for the course before Saturday afternoon’s qualifying session.
The Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will be run on Sunday afternoon at 12:30 PM Eastern Time.