Johnson Savors Details, Lessons from the first INDYCAR oval test


All questions about Jimmie Johnson’s entry into the NTT INDYCAR SERIES were answered on Tuesday when he said, a day after his first test on the oval track, that he would continue in the series as Chip Ganassi Racing and his sponsors. “Will have me”.

That is, the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion enjoyed Monday’s test at Texas Motor Speedway, where he used the support and guidance of former INDYCAR champions Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Dario Franchitti to perform competition rounds where INDYCAR has organized races every year. since 1997.

“I’m having such a good time, and every rep I get in the car, I will only get better,” Johnson said. “My intention is to stay (INDYCAR) as long as possible.”

It was fascinating to listen to Johnson, who turns 46 on September 17, explain the nuances of learning to drive an INDYCAR SERIES car on a track where he made 37 stock car starts (with seven wins in Chopped off). How the gear change is faster, the turns more precise, the lowered view limited, the lateral G forces more demanding, the awareness of the steep slope of the track and, of course, the gross speed of the car, which is over 25 mph faster at TMS than the stock since it was driving.

Everything, it seemed, had a different feel, and he said it gave him joy.

First and foremost, Johnson said he needs to get rid of the perceptions he has about driving the different types of cars on the circuit he knows so well.

“In NASCAR you go fast by being on the jagged edge and having the car on the side, and I quickly learn and understand that in an Indy car you can’t drive it and you don’t set the car up to. lead her to (the jagged edge), “he said.” Sure you end up there at times, but that’s not where you live.

“It really opened my eyes – on the road, on the street and then just this oval test that I did.

“Being on the right track and really being able to understand, I guess, more specifically for the car, how much you have to feel through the weight of the steering wheel. I’m used to being on the side in a Coupe car and people can see… the car is loose. I have oversteer, I have to work on the car. If you’re at this point in an Indy car, it’s all over and you crash.

“So that really changed my mindset and the weight of the steering wheel – that’s the part that really tells you about the level of grip of the car. The lighter the wheel, nine times out of 10 the more oversteer you have in the car and that means pit. Don’t wait for it to slip. You are probably not going to catch it; come in and work on it.

Monday’s session began as a sort of INDYCAR orientation for the series rookie, with Dixon prepping the car starting under the lights at 5 a.m. at TMS – Johnson had a late afternoon engagement in Phoenix – and the guest of honor would jump in the car around 6 a.m. , one hour before sunrise. The runs with the first two sets of tires allowed Johnson to learn his surroundings and gain confidence in the car’s grip.

A few weeks ago, when the 1.5 mile Texas track was chosen as the site for his first INDYCAR oval test, Johnson had reservations, thinking it might be best to try an oval first. less difficult. But the more he thought about it, knowing the track the way he does, he realized that the lack of grip of being the only car on the track in the summer heat with heavy tire degradation would give it a good, severe test. .

“As I got closer to the test date, (I realized) it would be a suitable test,” he said. “Worst case scenario, worst case conditions.”

Team Ganassi opted for a conservative chassis setup for the # 48 Honda Carvana / The American Legion and slowly brought in Johnson. He would run a few laps, stop, get out of the car to examine the data, let the data soak in, then work on the next big thing. By the time we got to the third set of tires, Johnson felt comfortable enough to start challenging himself, the car and the track, and it felt “so much more familiar” to me.

“I would even say that at the end of the day I was more in tune with the car than I have been so far on a road or a street course,” he told About his nine starts this season. “The second half of the practice session was very comfortable for me and I felt a lot more at home.

“Now, thinking back to (Texas) as the first oval test, since I had so many reps there in a stock because, it really turned out to be the right place… the perfect storm for me d ‘assess an oval in an Indy car.

Of course, there were a few moments of concern, like when Johnson “caught the eye” of Franchitti and Dixon with a wide turn entry.

“We had to bring it,” he laughed.

Controlling the shifting was also a work in progress, he said.

“Mid-corner move,” he said. “In turns 1 and 2 you go down a gear and then up a gear and sort of do your laps that way, and that was something new and different for me to get used to on an oval, and part of that is stretching the legs (of the car). With a six-speed gearbox and the fact that you don’t waste time with gear changes, the speed is very different and those three or four gears are very close together to help with tow or wind direction, track conditions.

“You have to know how to use the right equipment at the right time, and that’s new to me too. “

Johnson said he had completed several laps in the 214 mph band, but was more proud to be able to contribute to the effort for one of the few times in his first INDYCAR season.

“I was able to smell the car, speak the language, work on the car’s settings, (and) I knew what to talk to Eric (Cowdin, the car’s veteran engineer),” he said. . “I knew where the spring split worked – I guess they call it using the weight gain button, which was a cross weight wedge is what we call it in NASCAR – just using the tools and the the way you run a car was so much more familiar.

“I knew what I was feeling and I could be of help. “

Johnson returns to competition with the Portland Grand Prix next weekend at the Portland International Raceway, the first of three consecutive events to end the INDYCAR season. He tested in Portland and at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, site of the second race in the streak on September 19.

He said the next opportunity to test on an oval will come in October at IMS. Johnson has not made a commitment to participate or take his rookie test there, but neither has he said he will not.

“I’m definitely one step closer,” he said of INDYCAR oval track racing. “I think there are more conversations to be had with family, team and sponsors (and) at least one more test session in front of me before I can really make a decision.

“But driving the car yesterday only piqued my interest.”

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