Jimmie Johnson says he felt ‘caught out’ by the traffic he encountered in the Rolex 24 at Daytona and that managing this aspect of IMSA competition has been the key learning point coming into his second DPi appearance at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.
The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion recently ended a decade-long absence from sports car racing in January at Daytona, where he finished second alongside his Action Express Racing co-drivers Kamui Kobayashi, Simon Pagenaud and Mike Rockenfeller.
Their No. 48 Ally-sponsored Cadillac DPi-V.R is back in action this weekend at the 12 Hours of Sebring, as part of a recently-established Michelin Endurance Cup program for Johnson, Pagenaud and reigning FIA World Endurance champion Kobayashi.
Prior to the second of four planned DPi outings, Johnson explained that he felt reasonably comfortable with his adaptation to the Cadillac prototype but found minimizing time losses in traffic to be the most challenging part of his Daytona experience.
The same five classes that were in action at Daytona are back for Sebring, although the 37-car entry for this weekend’s Florida enduro is three-quarters of the Rolex 24 field.
“There’s always lessons learned inside the car,” Johnson told Sportscar365 during a group call with reporters.
“I’m trying to break some old habits from NASCAR and trying to trust the downforce of this car and the IndyCar. I feel like I’m making good progress there.
“I do think, though, that my approach in traffic at Daytona caught me out and hurt me more than I anticipated. So plenty of studying to get ready for this race and trying to figure out how to use traffic.
“We’re all going to be in it: how do I set myself up for a situation to have as little damage done in traffic as possible? A lot of that just requires learning a lot of these cars, how fast the [LMP]2s and 3s are, and the GT cars. Who’s fast and not.
“Depending on who’s in these GT cars, in one session you can trust a car and in the next session you can’t. So there’s a lot of learning that I’m trying to sort out there and manage traffic better.
“I think traffic can be a bigger issue at this place than at Daytona, so that’s really my focus right now.”
Johnson has never raced at Sebring before but did attend part of a two-day test in the team’s sister No. 31 Cadillac and also drove the 3.74-mile former airfield course in open-wheel machinery, prior to his participation in official practice sessions this week.
“To have some laps here recently in the F3 car to start, and then the IndyCar and the test in the DPi; I see why drivers talk about this place and why it’s so special,” he said.
“It’s extremely technical – we all know how challenging the surface is – but it just requires a lot out of the driver and the car. It’s just so unique, and really a fun place to make laps at.
“I’m just trying to get that last little bit out of the car. Many of the braking zones are really bumpy. That stuff from the driving seat isn’t all that comfortable.
“So to learn how to trust the car, know where those bumps are and know how to find those little pieces of a tenth of a second to be in the ballpark over a lap, it just takes a lot. It’s a very fun challenge around here to try that.”
After finishing second at Daytona, Johnson reckons the No. 48 Action Express endurance-only crew has the potential to improve on that position during its mini-season program.
“When you look at Action Express and their success at the tracks they run so well at, Sebring is a really good opportunity for an Action Express car,” he said.
“We did have an issue with our fueling at Daytona which cost us a few seconds per stop. The refueling rig wasn’t delivering the fuel fast enough.
“With it being a shorter race and every second mattering even more, hopefully we’ll have all that cleaned up and can be there in the fight.”