CHARLOTTE, NC (AP) – From Italy to Iowa to the simulator and finally the Finger Lakes, there was no relief for Jimmie Johnson. This weekend he heads to Watkins Glen for one of the last two games scheduled to appear in the IMSA sports car.
Then he will turn his attention to planning the schedule for 2023, which Johnson hopes will include a place in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports and Chevrolet are planning to move a stock car to Le Mans next June in a 56-class private garage. Designed to showcase NASCAR’s new next generation model innovation. The prestigious endurance race is scheduled for June 10-11, or two weeks after the Indianapolis 500.
Johnson wants to be part of the lineup, but his participation, he said, depends on the 2023 IndyCar schedule — an indication that the seven-time NASCAR champ is still planning a third season of open wheel racing.
Johnson this week pushed “behind the scenes” IndyCar boss Jay Fry to ensure the series was discontinued during Le Mans.
“I want to go to Le Mans,” Johnson said, but I think a lot depends on what schedule will be released to understand if I can. “I know there is a benefit. I certainly have a lot of interest in doing that. We’re just waiting for the first domino to fall.”
Johnson, who has driven for Rick Hendrik for nearly two decades, believes he is on the Le Mans nominee.
“I feel like there is really a lot of interest on both sides,” he added. “We couldn’t talk about anything more official because the schedule was not out.”
With everything in limbo, Johnson turned to the dog days of his current racing schedule. IndyCar raced five weeks in a row before a two-week break, which allowed Johnson to take his wife and two daughters to Italy for a quick vacation.
But the 46-year-old had to return for a test on Monday at Iowa Speedway, a rare elliptical never seen before by Johnson. His eyes were cloudy and his coffee blazing during a media briefing this week explaining how his next stop was the simulator to prepare for the Six Hours of Glen this weekend, the third of the four IMSA endurance races that have been included on Johnson’s agenda in an alliance between Hendrik, Action Express Racing and sponsor ally.
Johnson missed twelve hours of Sebring in March because it ran into an IndyCar stop at Texas Motor Speedway, his first appearance on an open wheel on an oval, so his return to the #48 Cadillac this weekend is a reunion with teammates Mike Rockenfeller and Kamui Kobayashi.
He had a brief stint at Watkins Glen a year ago and wasn’t sure how much Chad Knaus, the former NASCAR crew chief and IMSA’s 48th program chief, would use on Sunday.
“A six-hour race with three drivers, there’s not a lot of driving time,” Johnson said. “I think the time I spend in the car ultimately depends on my pace.”
Johnson doesn’t know what his 2023 schedule will look like, but he’s hoping it will include another full IndyCar season and, at the very least, IMSA endurance races.
His return to IndyCar is largely dependent on funding. Johnson found a Carvana on his own to support his transition from NASCAR Champion to IndyCar rookie, and he only ran road and street courses last year. He added the ovals this season, and made his Indy 500 debut last month.
Although it was considered a threat to win the first 500, He smashed late and finished 28th. He continued to struggle in the road and street courses, which led to Johnson deciding to fake it that he would only run the elliptical next year.
“I’m not sure where that came from. I didn’t have any discussions or think about my operations,” Johnson said. “What I was doing was very interesting and interesting. Keep getting better. I definitely hope to do something similar again next year.”
Anything he does in 2023 will end up with sponsorship, scheduling, and planned 2023 rule changes for sports car racing. The DPi class prototype will be replaced by a new LMDh class that will make IMSA’s Class 1 eligible to race at Le Mans.
But with change comes the concern that there are not enough structures and raw parts for part-table teams.
“We’re still at this point with IndyCar or the sports car or any other ideas I have to go racing. All right now is people are just starting to talk about options,” Johnson said. “It’s usually the end of summer, the beginning of fall when it starts.” Paper is on the move and people are looking to ink and get things done. We’re just early in the cycle, and I’m definitely trying to keep my options open.”
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