It’s an important week for Jimmie Johnson of the American Legion’s INDYCAR team, as the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion prepares for his first Indianapolis 500 in May.
The annual Indy 500 Open test is scheduled for April 20-21 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, weather permitting.
This gives Johnson the opportunity to complete his Indianapolis 500 Rookie Orientation Program (ROP). He passed the first two phases of the ROP on October 6, 2021 and will be allowed to complete the third and final phase with other cars on the track.
Once the Chip Ganassi Racing #48 Carvana/American Legion Honda rider completes his ROP, he will be looking to get the most lap times possible at the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Johnson continues to recover from a broken right hand following an accident during practice at the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 8. Despite the broken hand, Johnson raced through qualifying and the race before crashing into another tire barrier with 10 laps to go in the famous street race.
Johnson returned to Charlotte, North Carolina, and underwent surgery to repair the broken hand just below the little finger on April 11. The operation was performed by Dr. Glenn Gaston, Director of Hand and Upper Extremity Fellowship at OrthoCarolina. Johnson is expected to make a full recovery and plans to race the INDYCAR test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on April 20-21.
Johnson told The American Legion the two-day test is extremely valuable as he prepares for his first Indianapolis 500 on May 29.
“The test days are so limited and so valuable, it’s going to be huge,” Johnson said. “I’m excited to get in a group of cars and understand how the draft works and how to set up passes and ultimately create comfort in the race car and work to be as competitive as possible.”
Racing through traffic will give Johnson a great experience in the Indy car. When he started his ROP last October, he was one of only two drivers on the track. The other was Romain Grosjean of Andretti Autosport.
A near-full field of cars and drivers who will be competing in the 106th Indianapolis 500 is expected to take part in this week’s open practice session.
“It’s a different environment,” Johnson explained. “I learned first hand during the race in Texas how choppy the air is in traffic and how little grip you have. Any experience gained from this test session will only help the day of the race.
“Finishing sixth in Texas was a really big boost. I feel really good about that. I think we left a position or two on the table because of some telemetry issues. the top five, quality passes more than quality riders, putting me in that position was very meaningful and instilled some confidence.
Johnson once again becomes considered a rookie at the Indianapolis 500 after completing a rookie season at INDYCAR in 2021 when he drove on road and street courses.
“It makes me laugh, to begin with, but I’ll take it,” Johnson said. “Honestly, I feel like a rookie. I feel like in some ways on road and road courses I still need the yellow gearbox cover because I’m starting from such a point. low compared to those other formula drivers and their journey in the sport.
“I have never seen these tracks. I’ve never driven in the junior series, and here I am in this most competitive era of INDYCAR racing and being thrown to the bottom of the pool.
It’s the next step in Johnson’s Indianapolis 500 dream, which actually started when he was young watching the race on television in El Cajon, California.
“I was little,” Johnson said. “I have a lot of vague memories being very young watching him on the couch with my grandfather and my father. My grandfather was an AJ Foyt fan. I always had a connection with Rick Mears because “He grew up in California and raced motorcycles and off-road, so there was an attachment there to Robby Gordon for similar reasons.
“But I had a thing for Al Unser, Jr. I loved trying to figure out what it would be like to race against my dad. My dad was more mechanically inclined and I never raced against him. But I loved that Al Unser and Al Jr. had moments to go head-to-head on the track at the same time and thought the story was super cool.
Johnson is the centerpiece of the American Legion’s partnership with the series and has seen the relationship become the official charity partner of INDYCAR.
“It’s so meaningful to me,” Johnson said. “I had two grandfathers who served and a brother-in-law who served. Being able to represent the American Legion and see their involvement grow certainly shows that our fan base is listening and reaching the people they need.
“I’m honored to represent them, and I’m grateful for the fans, their interaction, and their warm welcome to the American Legion.”
The two-day practice session is open to the public, but is limited to the Turn 2 mounds near the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum. Both days of testing will air on Peacock, NBC’s streaming service.