NASCAR legend Jimmie Johnson says he's still carving huge chunks from his lap times at Barber Motorsports Park as he gets up to speed in IndyCar.
Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Johnson will take part in the 13 road and street races in the 2021 IndyCar campaign for Chip Ganassi Racing.
While Johnson's initial test for Ganassi on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's road course in July was a solo affair, today he has had the opportunity to test alongside 20 other Indycars at the 2.38-mile Barber Motorsports Park road course.
"There's so many things that are foreign to me, working through a lot of those little technicalities with the car, with the cockpit, procedures, then trying to get some laps in there as well," said Johnson, who will end a 19-season full-time Cup career at Phoenix this weekend.
"I was able to get probably 20 or 30 laps this morning. Shaving seconds off at a time, so I'm still a way off. Looking forward to the second half of today, getting down to a much smaller window on track."
Johnson said his attempts to not block faster cars had become less of an issue as his pace improved.
"I just want to be courteous on track, not be the rookie that makes mistakes," he said. "I feel like I've probably been a bit too worried about my mirrors, making sure I let guys by. Now that I'm closer on pace, it takes them a lot longer to get to me, catch me. They can pass me in a traditional braking area.
"Each time I go on track, things seem to slow down a bit more for me. I'm able to work through all that stuff to get faster and get more comfortable."
Noting the Barber track's technicalities that reward "bravery and aggression," Johnson admitted: "I just don't have that yet. I'm still trying to get comfortable in these cars.
"These blind corners, the approaches to turns that are on an uphill, you can charge them a lot harder, extract a lot more speed out of the car. Really I'm trying to figure out where the edge is, where to push the car. But it's a beautiful track. It really is a one-of-a-kind."
Regarding his pace deficit compared with his team-mates and rivals, Johnson said: "The slow-speed stuff I was really trending well, didn't have a lot to work on there. It was the high-speed corners, the flat-out corners where you have to trust the vehicle, trust the downforce that the vehicle provides - that's where I had my biggest gap.
"I wish there was a Day 2. It's only a single-day event. I would love to be within a second of the guys. I'm not there quite yet. Taking big chunks out of it each time I'm on track.
"But there's really no runoff. If you go off, you're in the grass, into a barrier. More important to me is logging every lap I can just because I'm starting at ground zero. I feel like that's more important than anything, although I'm eager to look at the [time] sheet, see how far I'm off, how much ground I need to make up. I'll keep a close eye on that."
Johnson said that the next test at Laguna Seca on 10 November will be his last of the year, and is anticipating the 2021 season may be a "bad time" for a rookie.
"I believe [Laguna Seca] will be it for the year. There's a Sebring test in January that we're looking at," he said. "I probably have five or six test sessions before the season starts. I think seven between now and next season will take place.
"It's a bad time to be a rookie, even a 45-year-old rookie with all the years I have in racing. To learn these cars and tracks, it's going to be a real steep learning curve for me. Sim time, test time, every lap is going to make such a difference for me now running into St. Pete."
Autosport has produced a standalone special magazine to celebrate our 70th birthday. All current print subscribers will receive a copy for free. To order your copy of the 196-page Autosport 70th Anniversary issue, please go to: autosport.com/autosport70th