Jimmie Johnson getting "closer to the edge" at Laguna Seca

Jimmie Johnson says that returning to a track where he has twice tested should give him the chance to push to his limits this weekend.

Jimmie Johnson getting "closer to the edge" at Laguna Seca

The Chip Ganassi Racing-Honda driver impressed at both Indianapolis Road Course and Portland, tracks with which he was familiar already, and hopes he can show the same promise at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

“It’s great to be back here because I think we’ve seen a big improvement on tracks I’ve been to before,” the seven-time NASCAR Cup champion told Motorsport.com. “So I certainly hope to build on that. I’m excited to challenge myself in areas I know I was slow in [during testing].

“I’ve been in a circle, really: as I improve somewhere, I need to catch up somewhere else. Some of the big gains I’ve had have been medium- to high-speed turns, understanding what the car can do closer to the edge.

“I’m now at a point where my initial brake hit is in the right spot, but managing the brakes is something I need to get a little better with.

“So it’s coming along, I’m down to the little tenths that add up. This is the hardest phase. From where I started to where I am now was easier – not that it was easy! – but now it’s getting really tough.”

Laguna Seca, he said, was particularly difficult because of tire behavior.

“The tire deg here… When we were here for the test, we had five sets of tires and if you go out and hit all the laps, you can be done before lunch!” he grinned. “So we had to pace ourselves, and every time we went out, the grip of the tire was going down, but as the rubber went down on the track, the track grip was coming up. So it’s a tough place to figure out.

“But I think here, with all the cars running, it will give us a stable environment, and that’s going to be helpful.”

Johnson said his ambitions have been raised following recent races, and finishing on the lead lap is no longer the target.

“I feel like I’ve crossed that hurdle and now it’s trying to qualify in the teens and race in the teens,” he said. “At Portland, with how short the lap is, I thought I was going to be really exposed and go down a lap, and I didn’t. So starting in the teens and finishing in the teens has to be the next step.”

When he’s racing against other IndyCars, Johnson says he can feel he’s braking at the same places as those around him, but added: “I don’t think I quite know how to pass a car yet. As funny as that may sound, what I mean is that I can use the push-to-pass button – that’s how I’m passing at the moment – but to really set up a pass and get alongside someone is something I need to figure out so I’m not using too much overtake [boost].

“So that’s what I need to sort out, running in dirty air and staying close to a car in front. In NASCAR, there’s plenty of dirty air but it’s very interesting because the trailing car can upset the balance of the car ahead. If I get right up close, I can make him slide out of the way. Here, I get right up close and nothing happens!”

Given Laguna Seca’s notoriety for its dearth of passing places for fast open-wheel cars, Johnson feels the key to any form of success for him this weekend will be “tire strategy and managing tire deg” – and also getting quicker on cold tires after a pitstop.

“Out laps – key for me,” he said. “They’re something I’m giving up so much time on. But I’ve also made some mistakes on out-laps this year, so I’ve been cautiously aggressive, when I just need to be aggressive.”

Johnson said controlling a 720hp IndyCar on cold tires is “crazy”, adding, “When you’re pushing, you think, ‘Whoah, I almost crashed!’ but you can’t back off. You have to keep pushing because you’ve got to get the tire to come in, so you can’t just tip-toe around. You’ve got to commit to putting the energy in the tire to get it up to temperature so it eventually gives you more grip. It’s a real challenge.”

shares
comments
Laguna Seca IndyCar: Newgarden leads Herta, Palou in practice

Previous article

Laguna Seca IndyCar: Newgarden leads Herta, Palou in practice

Next article

O’Ward on title prospects: “We’ve just gotta send it!”

O’Ward on title prospects: “We’ve just gotta send it!”
Load comments
Remembering Dan Wheldon and his last and most amazing win Prime

Remembering Dan Wheldon and his last and most amazing win

Saturday, Oct. 16th, marks the 10th anniversary Dan Wheldon’s death. David Malsher-Lopez pays tribute, then asks Wheldon’s race engineer from 2011, Todd Malloy, to recall that magical second victory at the Indianapolis 500.

IndyCar
Oct 16, 2021
Have Harvey and RLL formed IndyCar’s next winning match-up? Prime

Have Harvey and RLL formed IndyCar’s next winning match-up?

Jack Harvey’s move to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing sparked plenty of debate, but their combined strength could prove golden, says David Malsher-Lopez.

IndyCar
Oct 15, 2021
Why Kyle Kirkwood is America's new IndyCar ace-in-waiting Prime

Why Kyle Kirkwood is America's new IndyCar ace-in-waiting

Kyle Kirkwood, the record-setting junior formula driver, sealed the Indy Lights championship last weekend. But despite an absurdly strong résumé and scholarship money, his next move is far from clear. By David Malsher-Lopez.

IndyCar
Oct 6, 2021
2021 IndyCar title is just the start for Ganassi's newest star Prime

2021 IndyCar title is just the start for Ganassi's newest star

Alex Palou has captured Chip Ganassi Racing's 14th IndyCar drivers' championship, and in truly stellar manner. David Malsher-Lopez explains what made the Palou-Ganassi combo so potent so soon.

IndyCar
Sep 28, 2021
Why Grosjean's oval commitment shows he's serious about IndyCar Prime

Why Grosjean's oval commitment shows he's serious about IndyCar

One of motorsport’s worst-kept secrets now out in the open, and Romain Grosjean has been confirmed as an Andretti Autosport IndyCar driver in 2022. It marks a remarkable turnaround after the abrupt end to his Formula 1 career, and is a firm indication of his commitment to challenge for the IndyCar Series title  

IndyCar
Sep 24, 2021
IndyCar’s longest silly-season is still at fever pitch Prime

IndyCar’s longest silly-season is still at fever pitch

The 2021 IndyCar silly season is one of the silliest of all, but it’s satisfying to see so many talented drivers in play – including Callum Ilott. David Malsher-Lopez reports.

IndyCar
Sep 11, 2021
IndyCar young guns are great, but the elders aren’t done yet Prime

IndyCar young guns are great, but the elders aren’t done yet

The ace 20-somethings in IndyCar have risen to become title contenders, but the best of the series veterans are digging deep and responding – and will continue to do so over the next couple of years, says David Malsher-Lopez.

IndyCar
Aug 20, 2021
The F1 champion who became an Indy king in his second career Prime

The F1 champion who became an Indy king in his second career

Emerson Fittipaldi’s decision to go racing with his brother led to him falling out of F1, but he bloomed again on the IndyCar scene. NIGEL ROEBUCK considers a career of two halves

Formula 1
Jul 31, 2021