Jimmie Johnson has outlined his “dream” IndyCar programme, stating for the first time that he wants a two-year deal to compete at all of the championship’s road and street courses.
Johnson is in his last full season of a NASCAR career which has yielded seven Cup Series titles, and has confirmed his intent to go single-seater, sportscar and off-road racing in the future.
He attended the Circuit of the Americas pre-season IndyCar test earlier this year and bagged a run with Arrow McLaren SP, before lockdown curtailed it.
In a surprise move, Chip Ganassi Racing – a Honda team in competition with the Chevrolet marque Johnson has competed for his whole career – emerged as a suitor, and Johnson tested with Ganassi at the Indianapolis road course last month.
He managed over 120 laps with the team and its lead driver Scott Dixon. Before the test Johnson had said if he was not on the pace, he would not make the switch to the series.
Now, speaking on his former Hendrick Motorsports NASCAR team-mate Dale Earnhardt Jr’s podcast, Johnson outlined a number of factors and criteria for his dream move in the future.
“I was finally able to go to the track with CGR and the car exceeded expectations,” Johnson told the Dale Jr Download, the ‘finally’ referring to the fact that the original test with Ganassi was postponed as Johnson contracted coronavirus.
“My ability to sense and feel the car around the majority of the lap and try to exploit time out of the car is something I was looking for.
“And certainly things happen a lot quicker, but I could still [get a] feel and sense of what was going on. And I think with enough seat time I could go out there and not embarrass myself so that’s what I was really looking to do.”
Johnson confirmed before that he was open to testing and discussing an IndyCar switch with any teams, including Chevrolet or Honda-powered operations, despite being comfortable and impressed with the Ganassi outfit.
However, in a new development, Johnson confirmed he was already speaking to teams and searching for finance to make the deal happen, adding he expected to know more in the next four-six weeks.
“Literally following that test date, it sparked what I needed,” Johnson added.
“And, you know, I’ve been able to tell the teams that I’m talking with that ‘hey, the interest is there’.
“It’s a tricky time right now with marketing dollars, being hard to find companies that are actually able to spend money on marketing right now with the COVID situation, so we’re out trying to find funds to go run the full road course and street circuit schedule that IndyCar has, that would be my dream.
“That would be my dream world, to run 12 or 13 IndyCar races.”
On the squad he might compete with, Johnson added: “Everything’s really open right now, I’m speaking to quite a few teams, there’s certainly interest.
“So I don’t have a team narrowed down yet, but we have a lot of lines in the water looking for sponsorship to take it to a variety of teams.
“There is the manufacturer conversation – some of the teams I’m speaking to are Chevy, others are not, so it is something I have to consider and weigh out, you know, as time goes on, so we’re in that planning phase right now as corporate America looks to allocate funds, and you know, in the next four-to-six weeks I hope to have some clarity on it.”
When a switch to IndyCar was first floated, Johnson baulked at oval racing and instead steered his interest towards circuit racing.
However, citing the aeroscreen, Johnson has softened his stance on a future oval outing and specifically the Indianapolis 500, which he grew up watching.
He has pointed to the new aeroscren device as a reason for becoming interest in ovals again, but said that he would need a ‘hall pass’ from his wife to do the 500.
When asked on the Dale Jr Download about if he was interested in ovals in IndyCar, he said: “Not right now, I mean, 250mph in a little go-kart, I’m not sure that’s what I want to be doing right now.
“You know, the 500, of course, is what I wanted to do as a kid so.
“It’s on my radar but I want to watch this year with their new windscreen safety mechanism that they have and see how that all unfolds and then certainly after a year in the car… I would sign a two-year deal to go IndyCar racing for all their road and street circuits. In 2022, I would maybe look at the 500.”
Johnson also confirmed that the trigger for focusing on a single-seater switch came from setting a similar time to Fernando Alonso in a McLaren Formula 1 car, when the duo performed a ride-swap in Bahrain just under two years ago.
“Back up to maybe two years ago, McLaren, and Zak Brown at McLaren, gave me an opportunity to swap cars with Fernando Alonso and the experience just blew my mind.
“And they set up a proper test and I got a full day in the car, granted it was an older car and not the race tyre that they’re on but that experience of being able to match Fernando’s laptime, it sparked some interest in my mind, to try and pursue it further and McLaren’s been very gracious to try to integrate me into various programs, look to the future about what we could do.”
Brown confirmed when asked by The Race recently that he is interested in having Johnson back for a rescheduled test, but stressed that its current focus needed to be on its two inexperienced drivers and a one-off Fernando Alonso entry in the Indy 500.