NASCAR legend, IndyCar full-timer and IMSA part-timer, who has three times finished runner-up in the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona, says that he’s “eagerly awaiting” the 2023 IndyCar schedule to see what is and isn’t feasible, given that the centenary Le Mans 24hr race will be held June 10-11, 2023.
It was announced in March that NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports and Chevrolet would be entering a modified Next-Gen Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 at Le Mans next year, to pay homage to NASCAR founder Bill France taking stock cars to the race some 50 years ago.
Chad Knaus, Johnson’s race engineer in NASCAR, will head up the ‘Garage 56’ entry and team owner Rick Hendrick has vowed to put “a bold product on the racetrack.” The car will have hybrid power.
Johnson has boosted his road-racing skills over the past season-and-a-half, not only competing for Chip Ganassi Racing-Honda in the NTT IndyCar Series but also piloting a part-time Action Express Racing Cadillac in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s Michelin Endurance Cup rounds.
However, he was forced to miss the 12 Hours of Sebring in March due to his Ganassi IndyCar commitment at Texas Motor Speedway – which paid off when he scored sixth on his IndyCar oval debut.
It is those types of sportscar/IndyCar date clashes for 2023 that Johnson is eager to learn about as soon as possible before he can assess what is and isn’t possible. He has said on numerous occasions that Le Mans is on his bucket list, and now he perceives the Hendrick Chevy Garage 56 project as an ideal opportunity.
“I’m still eagerly awaiting the [IndyCar] schedule,” Johnson said today. “I’m pushing behind the scenes to Jay Frye [IndyCar president] and others to try to understand what the schedule might be.
“I want to go to Le Mans. It would be an amazing experience to go with Hendrick and Action Express and the way this whole partnership works. But I think so much hinges on the schedule being released to understand if I can, and from the team standpoint, what drivers would be at the top of their list.
“So, I’m thankful to have had a few conversations with them and I know that there’s interest. I certainly have a ton of interest to do it. We’re just waiting for that first domino to fall… I feel like the interest is really high on both sides.”
NASCAR Next Gen Chevrolet Camaro
Photo by: Donald Warr, AMS
Regarding his IMSA commitments for 2023, those potential schedule clashes are one topic for Johnson to consider, as is whether there will even be an ‘extra’ Cadillac LMDh car available for endurance rounds.
“I really think it’s schedule permitting and then the opportunity permitting,” said Johnson. “There’s such a shakeup next year within sports car racing, I’m not sure the dust is really settled yet to understand where opportunities might lie.
“I think in the next month or two there will be more clarity for myself and for a few others out there as well, as the series really comes together and cars and seats and opportunities are out there.”
Asked if it’s a case of car availability, he replied: “That’s definitely a big player in it.”
On the subject of his bond with principal sponsor Ally, Johnson described it as “rock solid.”
He continued: “We’re still in this phase – whether it’s IndyCar or sportscar or any other ideas I have to go racing – people are just starting to talk about options. It’s usually end of summer, beginning of fall when paper starts moving around and people are looking to ink stuff and get it done.
“So, we’re early in the cycle and I’m certainly trying to keep my options open, and I know I have Ally’s support on and off the track whatever I choose to do. I certainly hope it involves more on-track.”
On the matter of whether he is committed to IndyCar for 2023, Johnson responded, “Absolutely. What I’ve been doing has been so much fun and enjoyable. I continue to get better and certainly hope to do something similar next year.”