TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Jimmie Johnson may be done with full-time NASCAR racing, but you’ll still catch him out on the track. He’s been busy learning the ropes of International Motor Sports Association endurance racing and having a lot of fun doing it.
“It’s a different position as a racer,” Johnson said. “I”m used to being the only one in the car. To share those responsibilities, it truly turns it into a team effort. It’s just a different experience as a racer. And then with the duration of them being so long, to have that adrenaline going for 24 hours and worrying about the racecar is much different as well.”
One of the main draws for Johnson to run these races is to gain more knowledge about racing cars that are similar to those used in the INDYCAR Series. The Daytona Prototype international (DPi) car he drives in the WeatherTech Championship races are the most comparable to the Dallara chassis they race in INDYCAR. Johnson is racing part-time in that series and is gaining as much experience as he can.
“I’ve had my eye on sportscar racing for many years,” Johnson said. “I think this recent 24 Hours at Daytona is my eighth time competing in that event. So in the early 2000s, I raced quite a bit in these cars just setting-up for an opportunity post-NASCAR to be in this field and be a part of this great sport. As I made my INDYCAR commitments, I quickly learned how fast the INDYCAR is and that the next fastest vehicle in North America to drive that I have access to is this IMSA car. It really became more apparent to me that I need more time in this IMSA car. The testing for INDYCAR is very limited and it’s been more generous here. You get a lot more track time in a 24-hour race than you do in any other kind of racing. It’s kind of a two-part deal as I mentioned and the IMSA car’s really helped get prepared and re-wire my brain for this new sportscar, high downforce vehicle that I’m driving.”
Johnson and his teammates Simon Pagenaud and Kamui Kobayashi ran their first IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race of the season in January, placing second in the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Based on that finish and positive feedback from sponsors and their manufacturer, they decided to run in all four of the series endurance races and contend for the 2021 IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup.
That included this weekend’s Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring race at Sebring International Raceway. It’s a course Johnson had run only one time before, 15 years ago, so being out there felt all new.
“It’s so different,” Johnson said. “This car is so much quicker around here than the vehicle that I drove here 15 years ago. It helped me know where the front entrance was to enter the race track but outside of that, it’s all new.”
Johnson and the 48 team ended up finishing last in the DPi class– 7th place out of the 7 DPi teams– because Pagenaud drove 50 seconds over the driver limit during one stretch of the race. It was a rough weekend for Johnson, in particular, crashing in the final 30 seconds of qualifying on Friday and then crashing at the same spot on the track — turn 17– early into Saturday’s race. The team battled back to lead at one point and were later informed of their rules infraction.
Next-up in the IMSA Endurance Cup series is the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen at the end of June.