Sunday afternoon, seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson will make his NTT IndyCar Series debut at Alabama’s Barber Motorsports Park. The 45-year-old “rookie” took part in his first official practice laps on Saturday in preparation, finding success overall.
The NTT IndyCar account posted a brief video on Saturday that showed the No. 48 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda during Johnson’s second practice lap. He went a little wide on one corner and drove over a patch of grass before continuing down the track. The commentator explained that this partially blind turn is one of the fastest at the park.
Johnson went off of the course during his practice lap, but he kept the race car moving forward. Felix Rosenqvist also experienced struggles of his own. He hit a steel barrier with his right front tire after exiting a corner, bringing his car to a halt.
The 2021 season is full of firsts for Johnson
As a veteran driver with 686 Cup Series starts to his name, Johnson has no shortage of first experiences. However, he will continue to add to this list during his rookie IndyCar season. Johnson will experience his first practice and qualifying sessions, as well as his first full race. He will also try to capture his first checkered flag.
As Johnson moves forward through his rookie season, he will represent Carvana, a company experiencing a first of its own. The auto dealer is new to the world of motorsports sponsorships, a fact that Johnson used in a Twitter video to explain how he and CGR have a “big responsibility” to take them along on this journey.
Johnson is unlikely to achieve immediate success due to the steep learning curve and the number of experienced drivers facing off with him each week. Team owner Chip Ganassi expects some struggles early on, but he knows that Johnson is putting in nonstop effort to improve.
“If there’s a rocky day, am I going to be surprised? Probably not,” Ganassi said Wednesday, according to the Associated Press. “He’s a d*** hard worker. He sets the bar at a new level for the amount of work a driver puts in. He’s always in the simulator, on the computer, on the phone, making calls, asking questions, working out, talking to sponsors, talking to the team. I mean, the guy doesn’t slow down. I had no idea what I was up against when racing against him in NASCAR, and now I’ve got a little feel for it.”
Johnson will be part of a championship team
While the seven-time NASCAR champion pursues his first IndyCar win, he will join a man searching for his own seventh title. Scott Dixon, who leads the CGR stable, has the most experience of Johnson’s new teammates. He has been active for 20 years and has won two championships in the past three years. Now Dixon will try to tie AJ Foyt’s all-time record.
Prior to Johnson’s final NASCAR race, he headed to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for some practice laps in his new car. Dixon met with him at the track and provided some feedback. He also took Johnson around the iconic motorsports park and showed him the important braking points and where to gain speed.
Now that Dixon and Johnson are preparing to suit up for the first race of the IndyCar season, the six-time champion is having some fun at his teammate’s expense. He headed over to Johnson’s golf cart and added some “fun little magnets” to the rear. One said “Student Driver” while the other said “Please Be Patient. Student Driver.”
Johnson spoke to Jenna Fryer of the AP after his first practice session and acknowledged that he is working his way to full speed ahead of Sunday’s race. He explained that the “fun meter is pegged” and that it was a rush trying to navigate the No. 48 Honda around the track. Although Johnson noted that he was panting from the effort of controlling “that monster” after three laps.