Jimmie Johnson has IndyCar, IMSA, Le Mans eyed for 2023 schedule

CHARLOTTE, NC — From Italy to Iowa to the Simulator and finally to the Finger Lakes, there was no rest for Jimmie Johnson. He travels to Watkins Glen this weekend for one of those last two scheduled appearances in the IMSA sports car.

He will then turn to planning his 2023 schedule, which Johnson hopes will include a place at the Le Mans 24 Hours.

NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports and Chevrolet plan to bring a stock car to Le Mans next June in a special Garage 56 class designed to showcase the innovation of NASCAR’s new next-gen model. The prestigious endurance race takes place on June 10-11, two weeks after the Indianapolis 500.

Johnson wants to be part of the lineup, but his participation, he said, is contingent on the 2023 IndyCar schedule — an indicator that the seven-time NASCAR champion is still very much planning a third season of open-wheel racing.

Johnson this week pushed “behind the scenes” for IndyCar President Jay Frye to ensure the series is canceled during Le Mans.

“I want to go to Le Mans. But I think so much depends on the published schedule to understand if I can,” Johnson said. “I know there is interest. I certainly have a lot of interest in it. We’re just waiting for the first domino to fall.”

Johnson, who drove for Rick Hendrick for nearly two decades, believes he is on the Le Mans contenders list.

“I feel there is a lot of interest on both sides,” he added. “We couldn’t discuss anything more formal because the schedule is not yet known.”

With everything in limbo, Johnson has turned to the dog days of his current racing schedule. IndyCar ran five consecutive weeks before a two-week hiatus that allowed Johnson to take his wife and two daughters to Italy for a short vacation.

But the 46-year-old had to return Monday for a test at the Iowa Speedway, a rare oval Johnson has never raced. During a media session this week, he was bleary-eyed and sipping coffee as he explained his next stop was the simulator in preparation for this weekend’s Six Hours of the Glen, the third of four IMSA endurance races that Johnson will host had built into its schedule in an alliance between Hendrick, Action Express Racing and sponsor Ally.

Johnson missed the Sebring 12 Hours in March because it collided with IndyCar’s stop at the Texas Motor Speedway, his open-wheel debut on an oval. So his return to the No. 48 Cadillac this weekend is a reunion with teammates Mike Rockenfeller and Kamui Kobayashi.

He had a brief hiatus in the seat at Watkins Glen a year ago and isn’t sure how much Chad Knaus, his former NASCAR crew chief and head of the No. 48’s IMSA program, will use him Sunday.

“A six-hour race with three riders, there’s not a lot of driving time, period,” said Johnson. “I think the time I spend in the car ultimately depends on my pace.”

Johnson doesn’t know what his 2023 schedule will be, but hopes it will include another full IndyCar season and at least IMSA endurance racing.

His return to IndyCar is largely dependent on funding. Johnson found Carvana on his own to support his transition from NASCAR champion to IndyCar rookie and only ran the street and road courses last year. He added ovals this season and made his Indy 500 debut last month.

Despite being seen as a threat to his first 500, he failed late and finished 28. He continues to struggle on road and street courses, leading to a report debunked by Johnson that he will only race ovals next year.

“I’m not sure where that came from. It wasn’t in any discussions I had or thought processes I had,” Johnson said. “What I did was so much fun and joy. Keep getting better. I definitely hope to do something similar again next year.”

Everything he does in 2023 will come down to sponsorship, planning and planned rule changes for 2023 for sports car racing. The prototype DPi class will be replaced by a new LMDh class, qualifying the top IMSA category for Le Mans racing.

But with the change comes concern that there won’t be enough initial chassis and parts for sub-plan teams.

“We’re still in that phase with IndyCar, sportscars or whatever ideas I have for racing. Everything right now is that people are just starting to talk about options,” Johnson said. “Usually it’s late summer, early fall when the paper is moving and people are looking for ink and getting it done.

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