Jimmie Johnson said the interest level to compete in next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans as part of Hendrick Motorsports’ Garage 56 effort has been “really high on both sides” although a final decision has yet to be taken due to the possibility of a date clash with the NTT IndyCar Series.
The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion, who is in his second year of IndyCar competition with Chip Ganassi Racing, told reporters Tuesday during an IMSA-hosted Zoom session that initial discussions have taken place between the parties involved that plan to field a hybrid-powered NASCAR Next Gen Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 race car in the French endurance classic.
While the date for the centenary edition of Le Mans has been confirmed for June 10-11, IndyCar has yet to release its 2023 calendar.
This year’s Le Mans race clashed with the IndyCar race at Road America, while the Le Mans test day also fell on the same weekend as the Detroit round.
“I’m still eagerly awaiting the [IndyCar] schedule and I’m pushing behind the scenes to [IndyCar President] Jay Frye and others to try and understand what the schedule might be,” said Johnson.
“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.
“I think so much hinges on the schedule being released to understand if I can and also from a team standpoint, what drivers would be at the top of their list.
“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 still waiting for that first domino to fall.”
Should a clash be avoided and Johnson be able to race, it would mark the 46-year-old’s long-awaited Le Mans debut.
“I feel like the interest is really high on both sides,” he added. “We haven’t been able to talk anything more formal because the schedule is not out.”
Johnson said his WeatherTech SportsCar Championship plans for next year are also not yet confirmed, admitting that LMDh car availability is “definitely a big player in it.”
The Californian is returning to the wheel of the No. 48 Action Express Racing-run Cadillac DPi-V.R for this weekend’s Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen after missing the second round of the Michelin Endurance Cup at Sebring International Raceway due to an IndyCar date clash.
GM sports car racing program manager Laura Wontrop Klauser told Sportscar365 earlier this month that it’s her desire to have additional Cadillac GTP class entries beyond the two full-season cars from CGR and AXR at the two 24-hour races at Daytona and Le Mans but will be dependent on supply chain.
“I think it’s schedule-permitting and certainly opportunity permitting,” said Johnson on his 2023 IMSA prospects. “There’s such a shakeup next year within sports car racing. I’m not sure the dust has really settled yet to understand where opportunities might lie.
“I still think in the next month or two, there will be more clarity for myself and probably for a few others out there as we know cars and seats and opportunities that are out there.”
Johnson hinted that he’d like to retain the same driver lineup of Kamui Kobayashi and Mike Rockenfeller if a deal could be reached, although Kobayashi’s participation remains unclear given his newly expanded team principal role within Toyota Gazoo Racing’s FIA World Endurance Championship program.
“I feel like Action has been able to help Kamui navigate through the Toyota conflict and we’ve been able to do it for a few years,” Johnson said. “I feel confident if there’s an opportunity, we would be able to figure it out.
“Rocky’s schedule is a little bit more open; he’s not running a race team like Kamui is at this point.
“I definitely know all of us want to stay together. I feel like behind the scenes and the political pieces of it, we can get that organized.
“It’s really just about cars being available to drive. It’s still unclear I think we’ll know in the next month or so what opportunities might be there.”