Jimmie Johnson knows a thing or two about stock car racing. Actually seven things ... seven championships, that is, in NASCAR’s top flight. Fittingly nicknamed Superman, after winning his first Cup Series championship in 2006, Johnson went on to capture championships the next four years straight, becoming the first and only Cup Series driver in NASCAR history to win five consecutive years. So, after conquering the track for so long, what’s a legend with a hankering to tackle absurd speeds to do? Well, it appears he still has one last box to check on his bucket list: driving in the historic 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Why is Jimmie Johnson competing in Le Mans?
Currently in Le Mans, France as he’s set to drive a modified Camaro ZL1 in the prestigious race through the Garage 56 project, a partnership between NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, Johnson paraded his bold-looking vehicle through throngs of excited fans, filling the French city’s streets where the race will take place in less than a week. Anchoring the eight-car procession, the eye-catching feat of automobile engineering certainly turned heads as the No. 24 revved up the crowds along such landmarks like the Place de La République, the Cathedral of Saint Julian of Le Mans and the Tunnel Wilbur-Wright. Other veteran drivers joining Johnson through the program are Jenson Button and Mike Rockenfeller.
How fast is NASCAR's Le Mans competition car?
Photo: Getty Images
It should come as no surprise that the origin of the ferociously throaty roar, echoing through the city’s medieval arches, was Johnson’s modified Camaro because this beastly beauty isn’t just built to keep up with the competition, it’s built to outpace it. According to Road and Track, the Garage 56 Camaro’s quickest time of 3:53:761 was fast enough to blow away that of the GT2-spec cars by a whopping two full seconds. While there’s no claim of a true correlation, extrapolate that time over an entire race, and Johnson’s Camaro has a shot at putting every other car built to specific GT regulations in its rearview. Because the amalgam of American auto innovation doesn't belong to a standardized racing group, beating the wildly talented field might provide Chevy, Hendrick Motorsports and NASCAR some pretty righteous bragging rights, but that’s about it.
What did Jimmie Johnson say about the experience?
Thrilled to be representing NASCAR and stock car racing in general at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Johnson spoke to press about soaking up the vibrant buzz in town ahead of the event.
“It was just an all-new experience, but really cool to see the fans continue to show up day after day,” revealed Johnson, according to NASCAR.com
“They had to be five or six deep along the parade route, which was really impressive,” he added, reflecting on seeing the historic arches near the medieval section of old town Le Mans. “And then a photo — I’ve seen this [tunnel] photo before. So, now it all makes sense to me to be here and to have our car be a part of it, it’s really cool.”
How did Jimmie Johnson begin his two-week experience in France?
Photo: Getty Images
After his arrival to France was delayed by horrendous weather, there was no time to waste for the seven-time Cup Series champion. In terms of getting to work, Johnson dove into his “rookie” orientation, enduring more than three hours of multistage simulation training at AOTech near Paris. The session, according to NASCAR, was spearheaded by race organizers from the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO) and serves the crucial purpose of simulating a myriad of conditions for drivers, including day, night, rain and dry.
“It really worked out well,” noted Johnson. “The ACO was able to create some time for me to get the simulator. I personally ended up here very early, except for the simulator that I was in on Wednesday, so they let me stay late after they closed and right and got in my (sim) hours and worked through some of the procedures that take place on the track. I’ve been here a couple days early. I was ahead of all these guys just kind of hanging out and getting acclimated and ready.”
What have his partners at Hendrick Motorsports said?
Chad Knaus, Hendrick Motorsports’ VP of Competition and Superman’s longtime collaborator when he was a crew chief in NASCAR’s top flight, is thrilled to making history with NASCAR at the legendary race and spoke about Johnson gearing up for the event.
“He [Johnson] would have had a little bit more rest in between the simulator time and Charlotte, but he did what he needed to do – he got here,” Knaus said. “He’s a little sleep-deprived, but as soon as he landed, he went straight to the simulator and used it for about three hours. Did a great job, so really, really happy that he did that, and he even said it was beneficial, so that was good.”