Jimmie Johnson completed his first ever oval test in an IndyCar on Monday, possibly setting up a full-season drive next season.
The 45-year-old veteran arrived at Texas Motor Speedway before the sun came up, preparing for a full day behind the wheel at the track that he already knew well.
He had help from his Chip Ganassi Racing team-mate Scott Dixon, as well as Dario Franchitti who is the team’s driving coach, and the 2005 Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan.
The very experienced trio took Johnson around the track in a road car first, then the California-native was able to put in his first high speed laps in a single-seater.
Johnson is no stranger to ovals in general having raced in NASCAR for over two decades, but navigating the high banks in an open wheel car was a completely different experience.
In addition to the major difference in handling that Johnson has been struggling to adapt to all season, the raw speed of the high-downforce machines took some getting used to.
At full song, and IndyCar can lap the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway around 30 MPH quicker than a stock car, pushing the speedometer over 220 MPH on the straights.
“The overall experience has been awesome today,” said Johnson after his running. “We learned a lot, I was able to get up to speed – put down some really fast lap times.
“I need to pretend as if I’ve never been here before, and then after a lot of laps pull a few small things from my NASCAR days to apply to an IndyCar.
“Ironically, the way you use the banking to help support the race car is much more critical in an IndyCar than it is a Cup car, and line is much more forgiving in a Cup car as result.
“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.
“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.”
This year, Johnson is sharing driving duties of the #48 car with Tony Kanaan, but his thoughts on this test will help him determine if he wants to take the plunge and run a full IndyCar season next year.
He does have a deal with Chip Ganassi Racing for next season already, but currently he is only confirmed to be running the road and street courses just as he is this year.
“Today is really my first step toward racing in an Indy 500 or potentially racing on ovals,” continued Johnson. “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 [Ganassi], 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.’
“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.”
Johnson joins Romain Grosjean in dipping his foot into the oval waters, with the Frenchman recently completing his first ever oval race at World Wide Technology Raceway after initially agreeing to run the road and street courses only.