NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson tests for Rolex 24 with an eye toward IndyCar season
For the past two decades, the month of December has been about rest and relaxation for seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson.
It's been about unwinding from a grueling season, filled with constant travel and endless hours at a track. It's been about getting out of the car, stepping away from the track and hitting the reset button.
That's not the case this year for Johnson, who retired from full-time Cup racing last month. Instead, the 45-year-old is already onto his next venture.
"I'm trying to understand how to use downforce in a race car, and how to get up to speed in an Indy car," Johnson said. "With how little testing there is in an Indy car, this is a great way for me to get reps in a high downforce car. The trends and habits that I need to break, I can use this experience to start that process."
Johnson was at Daytona International Speedway earlier this week for a two-day test ahead of next month's Rolex 24. Earlier this month, Johnson announced he would return to the Rolex for the first time since 2011, joining a star-studded Action Express team that includes Simon Pagenaud, Mike Rockenfeller and Kamui Kobayashi.
Pagenaud is a former IndyCar and Indianapolis 500 champion, Rockenfeller is a Le Mans champion, and Kobayashi is a two-time Rolex 24 champion with Wayne Taylor Racing.
“It’s been a while,’’ Johnson said after getting behind the wheel of the No. 48 Ally Racing Cadillac DPi. The two-time Daytona 500 champion has been a runner-up twice (2005 and 2008) in seven Rolex 24 starts.
“The car has evolved I think two generations since my last race in the Rolex 24," said Johnson, who drove a Grand-Am prototype in 2011. "I think we’re 8-10 seconds faster with this DPi configuration than what I did in the GRAND-AM car. So a very fun car to drive, lots of downforce, lots of speed."
While winning a Rolex 24 is high on Johnson's "hit list," he also admitted he's returning to this race with an eye toward the upcoming IndyCar season.
Johnson will run 13 races for Chip Ganassi Racing next season, starting with the March 7 opener in St. Petersburg.
"It's like wrestling a monster," Johnson said of the Indy car. "It is quite a vehicle. This one is very impressive, but the Indy car is something else.”
While Johnson will return to Daytona for next month's Roar and Rolex, he squashed any rumors of him coming back for February's NASCAR Speedweeks. While he's eligible for the Feb. 9 Busch Clash on Daytona's Road Course, the 83-time Cup winner said he's onto other things ... for now.
"I feel like I need to not drive a stock car for a while," he said. "I need to really reprogram my senses and my brain to drive downforce. It's just a total different way to get through the center or the corner.
"Right now, I need to stay focused on developing the right habits for IndyCar. The season's going to be here before I know it."