Johnson hopes to build on improvement in REV Group Grand Prix.
Coming off his best performance of the season in terms of race craft and forward advancement from his starting position in the race at Detroit’s Belle Isle, Jimmie Johnson is ready to continue that improvement this weekend at Road America.
Johnson will drive the No. 48 American Legion Honda at the magnificent 14-turn, 4.048-mile natural terrain road course nestled away in the rolling hills of rural Wisconsin near the resort community of Elkhart Lake in this week’s REV Group Grand Prix.
The week after the 105th Indianapolis 500, Johnson and his Chip Ganassi Racing crew tested at the famed facility that has earned the name, “America’s National Park of Speed.”
“I tested at Road America two weeks ago, had great progression through the day and really started to feel comfortable with the car,” Johnson said. “I’m excited to be in a race on that track. It’s been a track I’ve always wanted to compete on since I was young. To finally test there in an Indy car and then to go back for my first race in an Indy car is something I’m very excited about.
“The facility is gorgeous: how it is positioned in the hills of Wisconsin, as large as the facility is, sprawling and beautiful. What is really surprising to me is how old the surface is. How many surface changes you have throughout a lap, how bumpy the track is. How rough and coarse the asphalt is in the track. That isn’t something the simulator articulates very well.”
When Johnson tested at Road America two weeks ago, it was his first time in the No. 48 American Legion Honda since the May 15 GMR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. Tony Kanaan took over the car for the two weeks that make up the Indianapolis 500.
“When I showed up at Road America, things clicked and took off right away,” Johnson said. “I saw the building continue.”
One of the great IndyCar drivers of the past 25 years, Dario Franchitti, is a driver coach at Chip Ganassi Racing. He works with all five of the team’s drivers, including six-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Scott Dixon, current INDYCAR points leader Alex Palou, last Saturday’s race winner at Detroit Marcus Ericsson, Johnson and Kanaan.
Franchitti was at Johnson’s test and is impressed with Johnson’s mindset as he continues to make the adjustment from NASCAR to INDYCAR.
“I love Road America,” Franchitti said. “Who doesn’t? It’s one of the great racing tracks of all time. Jimmie learned a lot there. He was on pace, and I’m really excited for the weekend.
“He is humble. Jimmie Johnson never thought he was going to come here and wipe the floor with everybody, no matter what he achieved in NASCAR. He is one of the greatest of all time. You don’t win seven NASCAR championships with as tight as the field is now without being very special.
“We took some of the information off the car and told him, ‘Just go drive the car. Go back to your instincts a little bit.’ As Chip Ganassi says, ‘Jimmie Johnson lifts the whole team.’”
Scott Pruett, the former IMSA great in Sports Car racing, is the man on the radio from Johnson’s pit area calling the race strategy. Pruett believes Johnson’s recent test will pay off this weekend.
“Jimmie had the opportunity to go and test, that was huge, and he had a successful test,” Pruett said. “What he did, how he did it, the lap times he had, he ran smart, and he is now familiar with areas where he can make improvements and build on that. Coming away from Detroit, his confidence has increased, and deservedly so.
“Road America is fast, it’s flowing, and when you think of those places you can go that fit into Jimmie’s style, Road American can fit into that category. What you saw at Detroit and his improvement, we hope to keep that going at Elkhart Lake in a few days.”
Johnson will also feel the support of The American Legion, which has a huge presence in Wisconsin.
“We’ll have great support from The American Legion and the veterans associated,” Johnson said. “We can tell where there are more Legionnaires in certain parts of the country than anywhere else. At the same time, we want to grow the awareness of the Legion, bring more out and more into the fold, and have people donate to The American Legion for all of the great things that they do.”
Qualifications for the REV Group Grand Prix are from 2:30-3:45 p.m. ET June 19 and can be seen on Peacock. The race is scheduled for noon-2:45 ET June 20 and will be broadcast on NBC Sports. For a complete weekend schedule, click here.