Mears: Johnson can make IndyCar switch “if the fire is lit”

IndyCar legend Rick Mears says that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson has the talent to switch motorsport disciplines if he has the motivation – and gets enough seat time.

Mears: Johnson can make IndyCar switch “if the fire is lit”

Following his test of a Formula 1 McLaren in a ride-swap with Fernando Alonso, seven-time NASCAR Cup champion Johnson commented that he would be interested in IndyCar road course races – and trying Prototype sportscars again – once his current contract with Hendrick Motorsports expires at the end of the 2020 season.

Johnson, who will be 45 by then, has cited four-time Indy 500 winner and three-time IndyCar champion Rick Mears as one of his heroes while growing up, and the open-wheel legend says he believes Johnson has the ability to make that switch.

Jimmie Johnson in the McLaren

Jimmie Johnson in the McLaren

Photo by: Steven Tee / LAT Images

Mears, who turned 67 today, told Motorsport.com: “In IndyCar there will be a lot to learn, and the fitness level required will be different from what Jimmie’s needed so far. The steering loads will be something he has to get used to because of no power steering in IndyCar, and the G loads on his neck, side to side and under braking and acceleration, will be a lot different.

“But I think he’s kept himself plenty fit for what he’s been required to do so far in his career, so if the fire is lit in him, then he will have the motivation to increase that fitness to the necessary level. He’ll dig a little deeper.

“I think there’s no doubt Jimmie has the basic talent to do IndyCar. He’s a true racer and the true racers are ones who can get in anything and go fast. But it’s a matter of trying to get him the seat time to refine his perceptions and learn how this totally unfamiliar car talks to him – what to listen for, what to feel for.

“The problem is, you only learn through experience and there’s not a lot of testing time allowed in IndyCar these days. It’s only seat time that allows a driver to start learning how to cut the tenths and the hundredths from his lap times.”

Asked if IMSA might be a better option for Johnson, who has twice finished second in the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona, Mears said: “Sure – again, he can do it if the fitness isn’t a problem for him. The Prototypes have power steering, but they create a lot of G loads on corners with the aero they’ve got. The higher the lateral load, the quicker stuff happens.

“So he’ll have to train the brain to deal with that after some 20 years of racing stock cars. But that’s something he can do if he has the desire to do it. Like I said with IndyCar, he can do IMSA well, but how well? Will he get enough time in the car to keep improving his game so that he feels that progress which you need to feel in order to feed the desire? That’s important, especially in his mid-40s.

“In my case I was… what, 41 when I retired? And it’s because I felt that desire was going, so I knew the rest of the things I needed to be successful would follow out the door soon after! That’s the way things go, right? But a totally fresh challenge might be exactly what Jimmie wants by then and that will keep his motivation high.”

Mears also paid tribute to Johnson, saying that despite a record-equaling seven Cup championships [shared with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr.] and 83 race wins [sixth in the all-time winner list], his skills remained underappreciated.

“Even when Jimmie was winning all those championships, I never felt he got the credit he was due,” said Mears. “I used to watch him and saw he could run a car as loose as any of those guys. His hands were constantly working and that was one of the reasons why he was quick and won a lot of races.

“He was also a real thinker, stayed calm under pressure, did everything right, and not a whole lot wrong.

“People say he was in the right team, the right place at the right time, but did they ever stop to think that Jimmie himself was also responsible for helping to make that team and that car the right place to be?

“When there’s not much telemetry and data allowed for a car, which is the case in NASCAR, the crew chief is relying a lot on driver feedback, and the driver is relying a lot on what he thinks and feels the car needs to make it better. It might be something that needs to be done in the pits, it may be something he needs to do differently out on track.

“Whatever it was, Jimmie seemed to have a way of finding the answers which is why he won all those races against some really strong opposition.

“And that’s why I’m saying that if he does decide to change to IndyCar or sportscars, then if he gets enough seat time and has enough motivation, he can make it work.”

shares
comments
Autosport Awards: Robert Wickens sends message

Previous article

Autosport Awards: Robert Wickens sends message

Next article

Chevrolet to power Alonso’s McLaren Indy 500 entry

Chevrolet to power Alonso’s McLaren Indy 500 entry
Load comments
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
The lasting legacy of a fallen Indy car rookie Prime

The lasting legacy of a fallen Indy car rookie

Jeff Krosnoff was plucked out of obscurity to become a respected and highly popular professional in Japan, and then got his big break in CART Indy car for 1996. But a tragic accident at Toronto 25 years ago cut short a promising career and curtailed his regular teammate Mauro Martini's passion for racing.

IndyCar
Jul 14, 2021
The winners and losers in IndyCar 2021 – Mid-season review Prime

The winners and losers in IndyCar 2021 – Mid-season review

At the halfway point in the 2021 NTT IndyCar Series season, we've had seven winners in eight races, spread between five teams – none of them Team Penske. In this unusual season, even by IndyCar standards, who’s excelling and who’s dragging their heels? David Malsher-Lopez reports.

IndyCar
Jun 18, 2021
The joy that exposes F1’s key weakness Prime

The joy that exposes F1’s key weakness

Long-awaited wins for ex-Formula 1 drivers Marcus Ericsson and Kevin Magnussen in IndyCar and IMSA last weekend gave F1 a reminder of what it is missing. But with the new rules aimed at levelling the playing field, there’s renewed optimism that more drivers can have a rewarding result when their day of days comes

Formula 1
Jun 17, 2021
Castroneves: How I kept it under control to make Indy 500 history Prime

Castroneves: How I kept it under control to make Indy 500 history

Helio Castroneves’ overwhelming vivaciousness outside the cockpit belies a hardcore racer who knows how to plot his moves – and then recall it all for us. A day after his fourth Indy 500 win, Helio explained his tactics to David Malsher-Lopez.

IndyCar
Jun 2, 2021
How 'chess master' Castroneves cemented his Indy legend status Prime

How 'chess master' Castroneves cemented his Indy legend status

Helio Castroneves joined AJ Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears with the most Indianapolis 500 wins after sweeping around the outside of Alex Palou on the penultimate lap in a thrilling climax. In one race, he validated Michael Shank's and Jim Meyer's faith in him, and Helio himself discovered there's life after Penske after all.

IndyCar
Jun 1, 2021
Indy 500 preview: Will experience or youth be victorious? Prime

Indy 500 preview: Will experience or youth be victorious?

A quarter of the drivers racing in the 105th edition of the Indianapolis 500 are former winners - but are they the favourites? The veteran drivers largely impressed in qualifying - but there's also a plethora of young guns looking to secure victory at IndyCar's flagship race...

IndyCar
May 25, 2021
What will it take to get American drivers in Formula 1? Prime

What will it take to get American drivers in Formula 1?

The FIA says it wants American drivers in Formula 1, but would it take an IndyCar driver to transfer or does an American need to join the European junior ladder system to get there? By David Malsher-Lopez.

Formula 1
May 19, 2021