In Jimmie Johnson’s first NTT IndyCar Series race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, Johnson showed some decent improvement but is still learning about racing an open-wheel car.
The seven-time NASCAR champion’s fastest lap of the race was a 1 minute, 12.5976 second lap. Yes, this was last of all drivers, yes he was three tenths of a second off of 24th place’s fastest lap, and yes, his fastest lap was 1.7209 seconds off of the race’s fastest lap. However, Johnson has made progress, even if some might not want to admit it.
The No. 48 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda caused three full course yellows in the Johnson’s first two races thanks to spins and light wall contact. Johnson did not have a single spin throughout the race. Yes, it’s a bit of a low bar, but sometimes starting at the basics is necessary.
Looking more into the lap times, if Johnson’s best sectors are added up across all laps, his optimal race lap is a 1 minute, 11.6546 second lap. That optimal lap is one worth talking about.
A lap of 1 minute, 11.6546 seconds would have been faster than any lap Scott Dixon, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Takuma Sato, Simon Pagenaud or Juan Pablo Montoya turned on race day. That’s six Indianapolis 500 winners right there. To make things more interesting, that optimal lap is only .0449 seconds slower than Colton Herta’s fastest lap in Saturday’s race.
Johnson’s crew put him onto the black sidewall primary tires to start the race before switching him to the red sidewall option tires for the rest of the race. The red sidewall tires give more grip and provide for a faster lap time, but the tradeoff is that their durability isn’t as long as the black sidewall tires. Per INDYCAR rules, a driver must complete two laps on each compound on a road course or street circuit race.
The first stint of the race was Johnson’s slowest on average, with the majority of laps in the 73 second bracket before stopping for used red tires on lap 14. Johnson’s pace in the next stint was pretty consistent, with the overwhelming majority of laps in the low 73 second bracket with a fastest lap of 1 minute, 12.6689 seconds in this stint. Johnson’s pace tapered off in the last two laps of this stint, so his crew called him in on his 39th lap, at which point he was one lap down to the race leaders.
The third stint was Johnson’s last on used red tires and wheel the first two-thirds of the stint was actually pretty quick for Johnson, with most laps in the 72.7-73.3 second bracket. However, with five laps to go in the stint, Johnson’s tires started to hit the proverbial cliff with five laps in a row slower than 1 minute and 15 seconds with a worst lap of 1 minute, 19.6816 seconds.
Johnson was on new red tires for his final stint of the race and as a result turned his fastest lap of the race on lap 68. In the final stint of the race, Johnson’s slowest lap of that stint was two seconds slower than his fastest lap, but the majority of the laps in this stint were all within three quarters of a second of his fastest lap.
Yes, the former NASCAR star is still running slower than the leaders by a decent margin. However, managing to finish only one lap down is a big accomplishment in an 85 lap race.
And also, once again, Johnson was fastest on pit road from the start/finish line to the pit exit line. So it may not be much since everyone’s on the pit road speed limiter button, but it’s still on top of the timing sheet.
About the author
Christopher DeHarde has covered IndyCar racing and the Road to Indy for various outlets since 2014. In addition to open wheel racing, DeHarde has also covered IMSA and various short track racing events around Indiana. Originally from New Orleans, DeHarde moved to the Indianapolis area in 2017 to further pursue a career as a motorsports writer.